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Having a sore throat can be miserable.
The pain and irritation is bothersome enough on its own, and sore throats often also make it difficult to eat or swallow.
Many times, this issue can also come with other symptoms from an associated infection or allergies.
Until you feel better, there’s a lot you can do at home to soothe your sore throat—including choosing the right foods and drinks.
And while it’s possible your sore throat may resolve on its own, if it’s related to a bacterial infection, your doctor may want to treat it with antibiotics.
What is a Sore Throat?
A sore throat—also called pharyngitis—occurs when you have pain or irritation in your throat that gets worse when you swallow.
Often, it can come with other symptoms, such as a cough or runny nose.
You may also experience redness, swelling, sores, or even white patches in your throat, depending on what’s causing it.
Depending on the cause, a sore throat can cause a number of symptoms, including:
- Throat pain
- Scratchiness in the throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- A hoarse voice
- Swollen glands in the neck
- Swollen or red tonsils
- Pus or white patches on the tonsils
- Sores or ulcers on your tonsils
If your sore throat is caused by an infection, you may also experience:
- Body aches
- Runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Visit your doctor or a health care provider if your sore throat gets worse, doesn’t improve after about a week, or if you experience difficulty swallowing or breathing.
There are a number of potential causes for a sore throat.
Commonly, sore throats are caused by a viral infection, such as:
- The common cold
- Influenza (the flu)
- Mononucleosis (mono)
- Croup, a severe cough more common in children
Bacterial infections can also result in a sore throat:
- Streptococcus pyogenes (strep throat)
- Sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea and chlamydia
Sometimes, sore throat can be a sign of another issue, such as:
- Dry indoor air
- Indoor or outdoor air pollution
- Yelling or talking for long periods
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a digestive disorder that causes stomach acids to go into the food pipe
- Thrush, or a fungal infection of the throat
Very rarely, a sore throat can be a sign of a more serious problem, such as an HIV-related infection or a tumor in the throat area.
These issues are usually accompanied by other, severe symptoms.
How a sore throat should be treated ultimately depends on the cause.
Most of the time, your provider will determine it is the result of a viral infection.
If your doctor or health care provider suspects your sore throat is viral, they may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen or naproxen), lozenges, and throat sprays to relieve the pain.
Viral infections can resolve on their own within about two weeks.
If your health care provider suspects the cause of your sore throat is bacterial and a test comes back positive for strep A, then antibiotics may be in order.
Antibiotics work by stopping bacterial growth and, as a result, relieving symptoms associated with the infection.
If you have strep throat or another bacterial infection, it’s important to finish the full course of antibiotics as prescribed by your provider.
Sore throats caused by seasonal allergies may improve with antihistamines.
If you think your sore throat is stemming from an irritant, like dry air, try using a humidifier in your home.
Other lifestyle and home remedies can also help relieve a sore throat:
- Getting plenty of rest
- Drinking more fluids to thin mucus and keep your throat moist
- Sucking on a lozenge or hard candy
- Keeping your home free of irritants like cigarette smoke
Gargling with saltwater can also soothe a sore throat.
Try adding about half a teaspoon of regular table salt to an eight-ounce glass of warm water, then gargle it and spit it out. A spoonful of honey can also be soothing.
Foods To Eat With a Sore Throat
If you’re suffering from a sore throat, certain foods and drinks may help relieve the pain and prevent further irritation.
Here are some suggestions for foods to eat with a sore throat (and what to avoid).
Warm beverages, such as herbal tea, can be comforting when you have a sore throat; additionally, they will help keep your throat moist, which can soothe irritation.
One study found an herbal tea consisting of licorice root, elm inner bark, marshmallow root, and licorice root aqueous dry extract—often sold under the brand name “Throat Coat”—was effective in relieving throat pain for up to 30 minutes.
So if you have a sore throat, keep enough on hand to sip throughout the day.
Other types of tea can also help relieve a sore throat.
For example, one 2016 study suggests gargling green tea can relieve sore throat pain, as it has anti-inflammatory properties.
If you have a sore throat, try adding a teaspoon or two of honey to your tea, or swallowing a teaspoon on its own.
Honey has been shown in studies to have medicinal benefits, including the ability to help stave off infections.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends using honey to comfort a sore throat, especially if you are also dealing with a cough.
Never give honey to a child under one year of age due to the risk of botulism, a life-threatening condition.
Soup is by and large one of the most comforting foods when you’re sick because it’s warm and easy to swallow.
There’s also scientific research suggesting it can boost immune system activity and improve upper respiratory tract infections that may result in a sore throat.
So if you have a sore throat due to an infection or you’re just seeking some comfort for your pain, make a batch of chicken soup or buy a few cans at the grocery store.
If you’re vegetarian, you can skip the chicken and use veggie broth instead.
Ice cream or popsicles
Cold liquids and foods can help temporarily numb your throat and relieve the pain.
That said, try not to consume foods with too much sugar.
Sugar may prevent your immune system from healing your body if your sore throat is due to an infection.
If you have a blender at home, whip up a smoothie with fruits, vegetables, yogurt, and ice.
The cool, soft texture will feel soothing to your sore throat, and you’ll also benefit from the nutrition.
Aim for low-sugar fruits, such as berries, and plenty of greens to support your immune system.
Because oatmeal is also easy to swallow, it’s a good option for breakfast (or any other meal!) when your throat hurts.
Oats also contain lots of nutrients, such as antioxidants and potassium, which can help boost your energy levels when you’re under the weather.
Try sweetening your oatmeal with honey instead of sugar to get even more benefit.
It’s best to stick with soft foods, such as mashed potatoes, when you’ve got a sore throat.
Potatoes are easy to make, and they also contain a surprising number of nutrients—including magnesium and vitamin C—if you leave the skin on.
Try making a batch and warming up the leftovers to eat when you’re feeling under the weather.
Sweet potatoes are also a great source of healthy antioxidants.
Bananas are easy to chew and swallow, so they make an ideal snack when your throat is inflamed.
Plus, they contain nutrients like potassium, vitamin B, and vitamin C, which can help keep your body strong and healthy when you’re sick.
Try adding a banana to your smoothie for a comforting drink.
Bananas are higher in sugar than other fruits, so it may be best to stick with one per day.
Yogurt is a great option for snack or breakfast when you have a sore throat for a few reasons.
Cold yogurt may feel comforting when your throat is sore or irritated. Plus, yogurt has plenty of nutritional benefits; for example, it’s rich in protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
Many yogurts also contain probiotics—good bacteria—that can help your immune system fight off an infection.
If you opt to eat yogurt when you’re sick, aim to choose one without too much added sugar.
Animal studies suggest virgin coconut oil may be an effective way to reduce inflammation and fight infection.
Plus, it may be comforting when you have a sore throat, as it acts as a lubricant.
Coconut oil is also rich in healthy fats your body needs for health.
If you have coconut oil on hand, add some to your herbal tea, or simply take a spoonful by mouth and let it coat your throat for temporary relief.
Foods To Avoid With a Sore Throat
There are some foods you should try to avoid if you have a sore throat.
Acidic foods, such as citrus, tomato, alcohol, and dairy can be irritating to the throat when it’s hurting.
Steer clear of these foods, or any food that further irritates your sore throat, until you feel better.
It may be best to hold off on crunchy foods like potato chips, crackers, and other snacks while you have a sore throat.
These foods may feel sharp in your throat when you swallow and cause further pain and irritation.
Instead, try to stick with softer foods that are easy to swallow while you’re feeling sick.
When to See a Doctor
Many times, a sore throat will resolve on its own, without medical intervention.
But if your sore throat doesn’t let up after about a week, or it starts to get worse, check in with your healthcare provider or a K doctor.
The following symptoms may be a sign it’s time to see a doctor for your sore throat:
- A rash
- Swollen glands
- Difficulty swallowing
- Trouble breathing
- Severe pain or joint aches
- Blood in your saliva or phlegm
- A lump in your neck
If you have any of these symptoms, or your sore throat doesn’t improve after several days, your doctor may want to do a physical exam and run lab tests to determine the cause and find the best treatment to address the underlying cause.
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?
Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes.
K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.