Sore throat is a common symptom of upper respiratory tract infections, such as a cold or the flu. It’s not uncommon to also have varying degrees of hoarseness or to completely lose your voice. Viral infections are the most common cause of hoarseness, or laryngitis. In most cases, sore throat and hoarseness run their course and go away in about a week. But you may be able to speed your vocal recovery and relieve your throat discomfort with self-care measures, such as gargling, nasal washes, humidification and over-the-counter medicines. The most important measure to take for getting your voice back, however, is complete voice rest.
Laryngitis is due to inflammation and swelling of the the vocal cords, which affects their ability to vibrate and form sounds. According to the medical text "Practical Laryngology," resting the voice is the best prescription for getting it back. Avoid talking as much as possible. If you have to talk, speak softly but avoid whispering, which strains the voice more than normal talking. Avoiding secondhand smoke, dust and pollution is also important because these irritants can further inflame your throat tissues. If you smoke, now is a good time to quit.
Fluids and Mist
Drinking plenty of water daily and inhaling mist from a humidifier or vaporizer keeps your throat and vocal cords moist, easing discomfort and irritation. Some people find it helpful to drink or gargle teas made from chamomile, licorice, blackberry or sage. Research examining the effectiveness of most herbal teas for sore throat or voice problems is lacking. However, a proprietary herbal tea containing licorice root, marshmallow root and slippery elm (Throat Coat) has been studied. A study of 60 adults published in the April 2003 issue of the "Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine" found the tea was more effective than an inactive substance in relieving sore throat pain for up to 30 minutes.
Gargling and Nasal Washes
Gargling warm salt water can help soothe sore throat and clear mucus that can cause coughing and make hoarseness worse. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends gargling with 1 teaspoon of salt mixed in a glass of warm water. Some healthcare providers recommend flushing the nasal passages for upper respiratory tract infections, including throat infections. An April 2015 "Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews" analysis of 5 studies concluded that nasal washes might have benefits, but more research is needed. However, a single study involving 401 children with colds found that nasal symptoms and sore throat improved more quickly in those using salt-water nasal washes 6 times daily compared to those not using nasal flushes, as reported in the January 2008 issue of "JAMA Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery."
Many throat lozenges and sprays contain mild numbing compounds that may provide temporary relief for sore throat pain, though they won't restore your voice. Active ingredients include:
-- Benzocaine (Cepacol and Chloraseptic lozenges).
-- Dyclonine (Sucrets lozenges).
-- Phenol (Chloraseptic Sore Throat Spray).
Menthol is frequently an added ingredient for cough suppression in both lozenges and sprays. Glycerin, a coating agent, is often added to throat sprays. Benzocaine lozenges were proved effective for sore throat pain in a study of 165 people with sore throats published in the February 2012 issue of the "European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology."
Warnings and Precautions
Although viral infections are the most common cause of sore throat and lost voice, certain conditions that may require medical attention can also cause these symptoms. A hoarse or lost voice can be caused by overuse, allergies, smoking, acid reflux disease and nervous disorders such as Parkinson disease. Laryngitis that lasts more than 3 weeks should be evaluated by a healthcare professional. Bacterial infections, such as strep throat, typically require antibiotics. Warning signs that you should seek medical attention for a sore throat or laryngitis include:
-- Rapid onset and severe pain.
-- Fever and chills.
-- Pus on the tonsils.
-- Swelling on one side of the throat or a lump in the neck.
-- Difficulty breathing or swallowing.
-- Severe bouts of coughing or coughing up blood.
- Practical Laryngology; Declan Costello and Guri Sandhu
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Pharyngitis
- Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: Safety and Efficacy of a Traditional Herbal Medicine (Throat Coat) in Symptomatic Temporary Relief of Pain in Patients With Acute Pharyngitis: A Multicenter, Prospective, Randomized, Double-Blinded, Placebo-Controlled Study
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: Nasal Saline Irrigation for Acute Upper Airway Infection Symptoms
- European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology: Efficacy of a Benzocaine Lozenge in the Treatment of Uncomplicated Sore Throat
- Merck Manual Consumer Version: Laryngitis
- American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery: Hoarseness
- American Family Physician: Sore Throat
- American Family Physician: Saline Nasal Irrigation for Upper Respiratory Conditions
- JAMA Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery: Efficacy of Isotonic Nasal Wash (Seawater) in the Treatment and Prevention of Rhinitis in Children