Most of the year, you probably don't give your throat much thought. Come winter, however, many of us are painfully reminded of this hardworking part of our bodies. The common cold, dry air, postnasal drip—a variety of factors can lead to a sore throat. The good news? Only rarely is it the result of a serious infection. Yet a recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that physicians prescribe antibiotics for 60 percent of the patients they see with sore throats—even though research indicates that only 5 to 15 percent of cases actually require meds. With rest and lots of fluids, most sore throats will clear up on their own. But if you can't stand the pain, here are my favorite natural remedies to help you feel better fast.

Spray With Sage—And Echinacea
Long used in Europe, sage and echinacea are popular herbal remedies to help fight colds. In one small study, nearly two-thirds of patients reported that their sore throat symptoms were lessened by at least 50 percent after just three days of using a spray composed of sage and echinacea extracts—a response nearly equal to that found with an anesthetic spray. Some researchers believe ursolic acid, which is found in sage, acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, while echinacea may boost the immune system.

Gargle With Licorice
While an old-fashioned saltwater and baking soda concoction is a well-known way to help prevent infection and ease throat pain, licorice may also deliver relief. In one study, gargling with a licorice extract was twice as effective as gargling with sugar water at preventing post-op sore throats. Licorice contains a number of ingredients with anti-inflammatory and healing properties. Don't want to gargle? Sipping licorice tea may also help.

Lock In Moisture
While viruses cause the majority of sore throats, dry air is also a common culprit—it can affect the protective mucus in your throat, leading to irritation. Treatment may be as simple as adding moisture to the air with a humidifier. Bonus: The device may help keep other nasty viruses at bay. (According to one study, the flu appears to survive longer in drier environments.)

Pop a Lozenge
Before you reach for prescription drugs, don't forget to try throat lozenges. Certain ingredients known as demulcents may ease the pain that comes with swallowing by coating the throat with a protective film. Honey is an excellent demulcent, which may explain why it's stood the test of time as a cold remedy. (It also may act as a natural cough suppressant.) And hothe anesthetic properties in menthol lozenges gently numb throat tissue. Just be sure to check the nutrition label—some lozenges are packed with sugar, so limit how many you consume.

Could It Be Strep?
Strep—a bacterial infection that should be treated with antibiotics—must be confirmed with a test, but not every sore throat necessitates a swab. Doctors consider several factors first. According to a 2013 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, two of the most important are the presence of a fever and the absence of a cough. Another good gauge of strep: the people around you. The researchers noted that looking at the local incidence of the illness can be helpful in determining whether you need to be tested. So if you have a scratchy throat but no cough, are running a high temp, and know that strep has been plaguing people in your office or neighborhood, it's a good idea to check in with your doctor.

Mehmet Oz, MD, is the host of The Dr. Oz Show.


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