What to Eat When I Have a Sore Throat & Cough?

It starts with that tingling feeling in the back of your throat. Then the cough settles in. Sore throat and cough are most often caused by viral infections, such as a cold or the flu. Less frequently, these symptoms can be caused by a bacterial infection, such as strep throat or sinusitis. Whatever the cause, you've got to decide what to do to try to feel better. Unfortunately, nothing you eat will make your illness go away more quickly. However, some foods and beverages could help ease your symptoms.

Tea and a jar of honey and lemon. (Image: Almaje/iStock/Getty Images)

Comfort Foods

When you have a sore throat, even the simple act of swallowing can be painful. Foods that might scratch or irritate your throat, like toast or popcorn, are best avoided as they might aggravate your pain. Sticking to a diet of soft, slippery or wet foods that go down easy can ease your throat discomfort. Examples of sore throat comfort foods include ice cream, flavored gelatin, applesauce, oatmeal, pudding, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and soup. You can also suck on hard candies or cough drops to soothe your sore throat pain and get some cough relief.

Fluids

It's important to get enough fluids when you're sick. Staying hydrated helps keep your throat moist and the secretions in your airways thin, which can ease your symptoms. It's best to avoid alcoholic drinks and caffeinated beverages like cola, black tea and coffee, as they can actually make you more dehydrated, not less. Clear fluids, like water, herbal tea, broth and ice pops, are good choices. Sports drinks are OK, too. Just avoid red-colored flavors, which can make your throat look more inflamed, hindering your doctor's ability to diagnose your illness. Whether you find warm or cool fluids more soothing is a matter of personal preference.

Throat-Coating Substances

Demulcents are liquids that create a soothing film over a mucous membrane, such as the lining of the throat. Honey is a prime example. A spoonful of honey can relieve the tickle in the back of your throat and reduce coughing. You can also use honey to sweeten herbal tea and help ease your symptoms. Demulcent teas can also relive sore throat pain. A study published in April 2003 in "The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine" showed that people who drank a demulcent tea made with slippery elm, licorice root and marshmallow root (Throat Coat) experienced significantly less throat pain when swallowing, compared to participants who received an inactive beverage. Relief from sore throat pain began within 5 minutes and lasted for 30 minutes in people who drank the demulcent tea.

Warnings and Precautions

Some sore throat and cold remedies may be risky for young children. Infants younger than 1 year should not have honey due to the risk of infant botulism. Children younger than 4 years old have a higher risk of choking on cough drops and hard candies. Consult your child's doctor if you're unsure about a remedy.

Sometimes you just have to wait out your illness until you're better. If your sore throat and cough last longer than 5 to 7 days, see your doctor as you may have a more serious illness. Seek immediate medical attention if: -- Only one side of the throat is sore. -- The neck is swollen. -- A rash develops. -- Breathing is difficult or noisy, such as wheezing or whistling.

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