With October in full swing the leaves are changing colors, the lines for pumpkin spice-flavored coffee are out the door…and people in Augusta are getting sick. The change in weather sparks the unofficial start of cold and flu season; one of the most common symptoms is a sore throat. You’ve probably heard that gargling with salt water will help ease throat pain and might even accelerate the healing process. Is there any truth to this?
An Age-Old Remedy That Works
Sore throats are usually caused by a virus—often the common cold or flu. Allergy symptoms including postnasal drip can also cause a sore throat. They are often the first symptom you notice, an indication that illness is imminent. Fortunately they tend to run their course in a few days, but the pain they cause during that time can make you downright miserable. Medications might help, but Augusta mothers have been recommending a saltwater gargle for decades. If this sounds like an old wives’ tale (no offense, mom!), you’ll be surprised to learn that there is some scientific basis to this claim.
Will saltwater cure a sore throat?
Saltwater won’t actually cure a sore throat, but it can help reduce pain and discomfort. This is because saltwater has hypertonic properties; in other words, the osmotic pressure in saltwater is higher than the pressure in the fluid of the surrounding cells.
In layman’s terms, osmosis refers to the movement of water molecules across cell membranes; hypertonic fluids encourage movement of water from the cell to the surface, helping to draw out not only liquid, but any virus or bacteria in your throat, as well. After gargling, when you spit out the water, you will get rid of some of the germs, as well.
An additional benefit of a saltwater gargle is that moisture on the surface of the throat acts as a lubricant and will help relieve some of the soreness.
How to Gargle with Saltwater
Making a saltwater gargle is easy and inexpensive. The key is to make sure you have enough salt to make the water hypertonic; at a minimum, dissolve a quarter teaspoon of salt in a half cup of warm water.
- Don’t use cold water; the heat is necessary to help dissolve the salt and increase blood flow in your throat, which helps strengthen your immune system.
- You can use any type of salt, but smaller granules dissolve more quickly and easily, so save the kosher salt for your next Sunday roast.
- Tilt your head back, gargle for a few seconds and then spit it out.
You’ll want to do this several times a day to really benefit, but in about 24 hours you should begin to feel better. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day so the salt doesn’t dry out the rest of your cells.
Don’t use a saltwater gargle if…
Not everybody should gargle with saltwater to help with a sore throat. Individuals with high blood pressure should focus on other home remedies that help moisten the throat. Chicken soup is another mom- and grandmother-approved solution that actually works; it contains nutrients that fight infection naturally. Other tips include honey, ginger, using a humidifier and staying away from cigarette smoke.
If you still have a sore throat, call your local ENT.
If you have tried a saltwater gargle and your sore throat hasn’t gone away after a few days, make an appointment with an Augusta ENT specialist. You’ll want to make sure there isn’t anything more serious, such as strep throat, causing your symptoms.