Is Cold or Hot Better for a Sore Throat?

The discomfort and pain from a scratchy, sore throat can make it hard to sleep, eat and be productive. This soreness can be triggered by a variety of factors, including dehydration, smoking, air pollution, infections or irritants, and most people employ self-care measures to help ease the discomfort while healing takes place. Common advice on home treatment includes the use of both hot liquids and cold foods, so it can be confusing to know which is better for this condition. Fortunately, both have their merits.

Drinking hot liquids can help sore throat pain. Credit: Richard Drury/DigitalVision/GettyImages

Hot Fluids

Popular home remedies for soothing throat pain are to consume hot tea, broth or chicken soup. Drinking hot liquids, and inhaling the steam as you sip the tea or soup, may help loosen mucus and relieve the congestion and stuffiness associated with respiratory infections. Hot liquids have also been shown to temporarily soothe cold symptoms, including a sore throat. So if warm or hot liquids help ease your symptoms, try to counter your sore throat discomfort with some warm soup, herbal tea or hot water with lemon and honey.

Cold Treats

Cold foods and liquids may also relieve the discomfort associated with a sore throat. Ice pops, ice cream or even ice chips can help numb the throat pain, and may reduce inflammation and irritation. Perhaps even more important than food or beverage temperature, however, is the value of drinking plenty of fluids to counter sore throat discomfort. Staying well hydrated prevents the throat from getting too dry, and thins the excess mucus, making it easier for your body to expel.

Sore Throat Treatment

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen are commonly used to reduce the pain associated with a sore throat. In addition, throat lozenges may temporarily ease pain, particularly if they contain numbing effects. Gargling with warm salt water may also help soothe and heal a sore throat.

Other treatment measures are targeted to the cause of the sore throat. Most viral causes of sore throats do not require drug treatment, although antiviral medications may be prescribed if the sore throat is related to the flu. Antibiotics may be prescribed if the sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection, but antibiotics do not kill viruses -- the most common infectious cause of a sore throat. If the sore throat is caused by allergies or acid reflux, medications may be prescribed to treat these conditions.

Warnings

Most sore throats heal within a week, so see a doctor if your sore throat lasts longer than this. Also, if you have a sore throat that is accompanied by a rash, earache, joint pain or fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or greater, or if the throat feels blocked and you can't swallow, sleep or eat, see a doctor right away.

Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD

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If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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