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Friday, February 18, 2011

Ask a Pharmacist: What can take for a sore throat?

Ah, seasons are changing, pollen is wafting, people are sniffling!
One of the common questions I receive this time of year is about sore throats. Nothing is more annoying, yet since a sore throat isn't dire, you still have to go to work and school and act normal. How you should treat it depends on the cause.
1. Scenario one: "I'm getting over a cold, but my cough is always the last thing to go. It's giving me a sore throat."
It sounds like your throat is irritated. While out and about, suck on some Halls Breezers. They're pectin-based, so they coat the throat to soothe it. Alternatively, buy slippery elm lozenges at a health food store. They work well, too. When you're at home you can sip hot water with honey. I don't usually recommend tea since it is an astringent and can dry out the throat and worsen the irritation.
2. Scenario two: "I think I'm dying."
You might have the flu. If you're aching, feverish, and seem to have a severe cold or a flu, you may have a sore throat as part of the infection. The pain is partly due to your immune response in the area, partly from irritation thanks to coughing and mucous build up, and partly due to the overall aches that set in with a flu. Swallowing and talking hurts.
Treat the pain with a lozenge that contains benzocaine, such as Sucrets or Chloraseptic. They actually numb the throat. Avoid sprays; they're messy and hard to apply and wash away with a few swallows.
3. Scenario three: "Swallowing is so painful! It feels like there is a lump in my throat."
First, make sure you don't have strep. Strep symptoms can be similar to a cold or flu, with noticeable throat pain. You may be able to see swelling, redness, or white spots on the uvula, tonsils, and palate. But don't trust your own diagnosis: it's hard to look in a mirror with a flashlight see if your throat is red and sometimes symptoms are non-specific.
If you have a cold or flu and feel that painful swallowing, you need to reduce swelling in the area. There are two prescription options: one is an oral steroid to decrease inflammation; another is a gargle called by various names (1:2:3 rinse or Magic Mouthwash). You have some non-prescription options, too. You can actually make your own gargle for sore and swollen throat and tonsils. Mix 3 teaspoons Maalox liquid with 2 teaspoons Benadryl liquid and one teaspoon Chloraseptic spray (take the spray top off the spray bottle),. Gargle and swish well for at least a minute and spit out. you can repeat every few hours; don't swallow since you'll be loading up on Benadryl. Another remedy is very old fashioned: plain Coca-Cola. Sip some regular coke and notice that it reduces inflammation. And of course, a good old hot toddy helps, too.
4. Scenario four: "I've had this annoying sore, raw feeling in the back of my throat for days."
Most of the time a nagging sore throat is allergy related. Allergies give you sniffles; sniffles give you post-nasal drip; post nasal drip irritates the throat. Drying up the drip usually takes care of the problem. If you have noticed other allergy symptoms, try an antihistamine for a few days. I'm partial to cetirizine (Zyrtec). You may need more than just an antihistamine if you are experiencing a great deal of nasal mucous. One remedy is to use a saline rinse to clear the sinuses out. Try a netti-pot or similar wash. This is not comfortable, but if you keep producing nasal mucous this can help. You can also gargle with salt water to clear out the mucous that collects in the throat.
If you have a cold, sometimes the post-nasal drip is thicker and an antihistamine won't help very much. If you are waking up with a lot of thick congestion and a sore throat, try thinning the mucous with a guaifenesin (Mucinex in the blue box or plain Robitussin). At first your nose will run more and you will have more drainage, but it will help you to clear it out.
5. Scenario five: "I had a long night out/long speech/12 hour meet and greet/opera. Now my throat is sore."
Overuse injuries require rest, hydration, and soothing. Drink tons of water. Milk, especially whole milk, can sooth but don't use it if you're a singer - it prevents mucous breakdown and can effect your singing voice. You can sooth the throat with pectin drops or slippery elm lozenges but don't use regular cough drops.

By the way, I'm now taking real ask a pharmacist questions, and I'm going to go back to my previous posts and find questions from the comments in that section, too. Thanks in advance for the questions!


  1. Gracie, you have been on fire with your snarky comments on my blog lately. Bravo. You even got a "I like Gracies Comment".
    The Manly Runner*

    *Extra manly

  2. Ooh, goodie! I think I asked about taking vitamin D and fish oil supplements and if you think those are worth it. Also, are there some vitamins that shouldn't be taken/eaten together because one blocks the absorption of the other?

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