Antiseptic mouthwash can be used to treat some of the symptoms that cause sore throat. In fact, according to health maintenance organization Kaiser Permanente, prescription-strength antiseptic mouthwashes are a commonly prescribed treatment. Most people know how to swish and gargle for oral hygiene, but when and how to relieve a sore throat is less common knowledge.
According to Kaiser Permanente's "Healthwise Handbook," mouthwash won't relieve your sore throat. It can, however, help kill the bacteria irritating it and accelerate your healing. Sore throats caused by bacteria, or by canker sores, are the sore throats for which a mouthwash gargle is most effective.
How It Works
The kind of sore throat mouthwash can help is essentially a minor wound on the inside of your throat: a scrape or abrasion. The moisture and bacteria that naturally live in your mouth can keep these minor injuries fresh and sore much longer than a similar scrape on your skin would last. Antiseptic mouthwash kills the bacteria it comes into contact with, and accelerates healing the same way an antibiotic cream helps treat a cut on your skin.
To use mouthwash on a sore throat, first confirm it's an antiseptic mouthwash. Some mouthwashes are simply water that helps loosen plaque before brushing, and won't do anything to help you heal. Pour about two tablespoons into a glass, then pour it into your mouth. Tilt back your head as you exhale, gargling the mouthwash for 20 to 30 seconds. Spit out the mouthwash. For best results, do this after you have brushed your teeth.
Sore throats caused by cold or flu won't be helped by antiseptic mouthwash: the virus causing the symptoms isn't localized. Strep and staph infections in the throat are usually too resistant to respond to an antiseptic as weak as mouthwash, says Kaiser Permanente. On the other end of the spectrum, "Prevention" Magazine's "The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies" warns sore throats caused by shouting or post-nasal drip might be exacerbated by a mouthwash gargle. There's no bacteria to kill, and the alcohol will only exacerbate the raw throat.
Don't drink from the neck of your mouthwash bottle or share a cup when treating your sore throat. Some bacteria could pass on to the next person to use it. Check with your doctor if the sore throat persists for more than a week, or if it gets worse. If you have a predisposition toward strep throat, see your doctor before trying any other remedies.