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Why Does Salt Water Help Sore Throats?


I am having some trouble understanding how salt water, a simple solution, could so effectively remove the pains of a sore throat.

I do believe that the answer is closely related to hypo/hyper-tonic solutions, but why is this so, and how does this work?


Salt water may have anti-septic properties due to the effect it has on water potential. Pure water has a water potential (Ψ) of zero. A concentrated salt solution has a lower (more-negative) water potential. The water potential of the salt solution is likely to be more negative than that of the pathogen's cytoplasm; the salt solution is therefore referred to as hypertonic. Therefore water osmoses out of the cell (osmosis being the net movement of water from a higher water potential to a lower water potential across a semi-permeable membrane). The loss of water from the pathogenic cells causes osmotic crenation - the cell becomes shrivelled and dies.

A hypotonic solution (for example cells placed into pure water) would cause the opposite effect - osmotic lysis. This is the bursting of the cell due to the movement of water into the cell. The bacterial cell wall would first have to be damaged (e.g. by penicillin). This would not be the process by which a salt solution has effect, however.

The fact that the salt water is warm in order to improve solubility may also have the side-effect of causing vasodilation around the infection, increasing the rate at which white blood cells can arrive at the infection site.

It has been more difficult to find a theory as to why a salt solution would have analgesic properties, see the comments below & previous versions of this answer.


What Doctors Think About Gargling With Salt Water When You Have A Sore Throat

When you were a kid, being stuck at home when you were feeling under the weather had its perks. You’d get to cozy up on the couch and watch “The Price Is Right,” and your mom would make you chicken soup to help your cold symptoms and let you have a popsicle to soothe your aching throat.

But not all of your mom’s remedies were as tasty. Exhibit A: salt water. Moms around the world love mixing up that warm salt water for their kids to gargle, claiming it helps soothe the pain of a sore throat. Was mom right? Or have children been suffering through this yucky tasting remedy for generations?

Guess what? Your mom was right. Gargling those salty concoctions is recommended by doctors and backed by research.


Why Sore Throats Hurt

It's unlikely that there's been anyone who has never had a sore throat. A sore throat happens when the mucus membranes that line your throat are either inflamed or infected.

Your body's response is then to send a lot of blood rushing into that area. That way, the white blood cells and antibodies have more access to the area so that they can fight off infection while the damage is repaired.

Swelling Blood Vessels

The problem is that in order to get the blood rushing to those cells, your body releases chemicals that make the blood vessels in the surrounding tissue swell. Unfortunately, all this swelling puts pressure on the nerve endings in your throat and causes pain. Pain is your body's way of alerting you that there's something wrong.

If you are suffering from a sore throat, you can always try gargling with salt water. Because salt water is more concentrated than the fluids in your throat, it pulls those fluids right out of the swollen area and reduces the swelling. Less swelling means less pain.


Making Your Salt Water Rinse

Salt water rinses are easy to use and make. You can use any type of salt for a salt water rinse, and add in baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, honey, or many add-ins for additional healing properties. Most salt water rinse recipes call for 8 ounces of warm water and 1 teaspoon of salt. If your mouth is tender and the salt water rinse is stinging, you can use ½ tsp of salt instead of a full teaspoon for the first day or two.

To make the salt water rinse, bring your water to a boil using a stove or microwave. Remove your water from the heat, then add your salt and stir. This is also where you can add in your honey, hydrogen peroxide, or baking soda. Let the salt water cool to a warm temp before rinsing with it. Once you have finished your salt water rinse, you should discard any leftover solution to avoid contamination.

If you’re suffering from tooth pain and are thinking about resorting to salt water rinses, make sure you schedule an appointment with your dentist first. While salt water rinses are great for speeding up wound healing and decreasing mouth swelling, they won’t solve the root problem of your pain.

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Interviewer: Does gargling salt water when you get sick actually do anything? We'll find out next on The Scope.

Announcer: Health information from experts supported by research. From University of Utah Health, this is thescoperadio.com.

Interviewer: Dr. Tom Miller, so there's kind of this rumor thing out there. My mom tells me, my wife tells me, when I start, like, talking about how I'm getting a tickling in my throat, I feel like I'm getting sick, they say, "Oh, you got to gargle salt water. You got to gargle salt water." And I'm like, "I don't want to gargle salt water," but I do because, you know . . .

Dr. Miller: Because you don't want to get in trouble.

Interviewer: I'm an obedient son/husband. But does it actually really do anything? Does it shorten the duration? Does it actually prevent something from coming on? Give me the . . .

Dr. Miller: Well, it depends. Let's talk about does it actually do something. I think, you know, gargling salt water, for some, might soothe that tickle in the throat or that little bit of pain in the back of the throat due to a virus. But in terms of will it shorten the length or duration of that illness, no it won't do that. But it's perfectly fine to gargle with it. I wouldn't swallow the salt water. That has its own implications. But if you find that it soothes the back of your throat, you could go ahead and gargle. And the same is true with mouthwashes like Listerine or Scope if that tends to make you feel better for a little while. That's fine, but it's not going to shorten things, or it's not going to make that virus go away.

Interviewer: So that salt's not getting back there and causing a toxic environment? Are there other things that people do that really they think is going to shorten the duration, but it really doesn't? Just it kind of soothes things . . .

Dr. Miller: Throat lozenges, you know, and things for cough that come along with that tickle in the back of the throat. They soothe the back of the throat. they make you feel better, but it's not going to change the duration of the illness or the intensity.

Dr. Miller: You know, throughout the day.

Interviewer: And zinc tablets, what about those? That's another one I hear.

Dr. Miller: It hasn't been proven to really reduce the length of the cold, but it's not going to hurt people.

Interviewer: So if you want to do it, then go ahead. It's not . . .

Dr. Miller: Yeah, it's fine. I don't say to people that it's going to make a difference, but I tell them if they think it's going to make a difference or if they've tried it and they feel like it's made a difference, I'll tell them scientifically there's not a lot of evidence for that, but it's available over-the-counter. If they want to use it, they can.

Interviewer: All right, sounds good. So if you want to use those things, you can if it brings you some sort of relief or comfort. Don't expect it to really shorten the duration. And maybe you do it just to keep your mom/wife happy.

Announcer: Have a question about a medical procedure? Want to learn more about a health condition? With over 2,000 interviews with our physicians and specialists, there's a pretty good chance you'll find what you want to know. Check it out at thescoperadio.com.

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ELI5: Why is gargling salt water known to help with sore throats, but eating chips doesn't?

If the salt in salt water can aide the sore throat, why wouldn't the salt in chips, french fries, or any other salty food also be a suggestion to help?

There's a phenomenon called 'osmosis' which plays its role here. When two different liquids with different concentrations are separated by a semipermeable membrane (the one that allows one-way flow only), the liquids would flow in such a way that they attain a state of equilibrium, i.e. now the concentration of both the liquids is same. The bacteria which cause the sore throat also have their skin similar to a semipermeable membrane. When you gargle with salty water, the inner ɿluid' of bacteria (which makes them live, in a literal sense) oozes out (in order to equalize the concentrations of these fluids-salt water and bacterial body fluid). This kills the bacteria and their ➬tive fluid' is washed away when you gulf-out the liquid. Thus they loose their dominance on the sore throat and you feel relaxed.

Holy shit, I had no idea about this actually. Very interesting to learn. Thanks for the explanation.

You some sort of biologist ?

Osmosis. Water wants to be everywhere it's not already. When you put something like a slice of vegetable in pure water, it swells up because the water already in the vegetable is not as pure as the water around it, so osmotic pressure moves the water from the outside, to the inside and it swells.

By that same action, if you take very unpure water, such as salt water, and put something in it, then the salinity will draw the purer water inside the object into the salt water as it tries to find equilibrium. In other words salt water on a sore throat causes the swelling in your throat to go down as it draws water out of your throat and into the salt water, relieving pressure, swelling, and pain.

Others explained the osmosis part. But some bonus info: salty food doesn't help the way salt water does because of a couple of things.

For one, there isn't enough of the right kind of salt in most salty foods to make your throat less bacteria-friendly.

For two, there are enough carbs and sugars in most salty foods to feed the bacteria making your throat sore. This is obviously counter-productive.

For three, salty foods usually have a very rough texture which will scrape and irritate your throat, which is bad by itself but the super tiny scrapes also make great hiding places for the bacteria to grow.

So gargling salt water is a great idea and will help kill the bacteria making your throat sore. Eating salty food is a terrible idea because it basically builds a cozy place for all the bacteria to live and then gives them a bunch of free food.


Sore Throat Remedies That Actually Work

Your poor, sore throat. Is there anything that can help? Family medicine doctor Daniel Allan, MD, shares the most effective home remedies for a sore throat, along with those that don’t work as advertised.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

How to get rid of a sore throat: 6 home remedies you should try

1. Warm and cold fluids.

The skinny: Sip on warm drinks, such as tea or chicken soup. (It’s not just for the soul!) Or try cold liquids, such as ice water or popsicles.

Doctor’s advice: Liquids help clear mucous membranes, keep things flowing and prevent sinus infections. Warm temperatures may also reduce coughs by soothing the back of the throat. Try both warm and cold to see what works best for you.

2. Gargling

The skinny: Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of salt — or a similar amount of baking soda — in a glass of warm water. Gargle (but don’t swallow) the concoction every three hours for an all-natural sore throat remedy.

Doctor’s advice: Salt water can help reduce swelling and irritation in your throat. Baking soda also soothes the throat, breaks up mucus and can help with throat-irritating acid reflux.

3. Over-the-counter antihistamines and pain relievers

The skinny: An antihistamine may dull or relieve the throat pain. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen also help with pain that’s located a little deeper in the glands and other parts of the neck.

Doctor’s advice: Histamines are chemicals that help your immune system fight foreign substances. But sometimes they go overboard, triggering symptoms (such as congestion and post-nasal drip) that can make a sore throat feel worse. Antihistamines can counteract this overreaction.

4. Steam and humidity

The skinny: Take a hot shower. When it gets really steamy, breathe in the magic.

Doctor’s advice: Steam loosens mucus and can moisturize and soothe a sore throat.

5. Hot toddy

The skinny: A hot toddy is a drink combo made with water, whiskey, honey and lemon juice and served hot. Some people add spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger.

Doctor’s advice: Hot toddies can be very soothing. Here’s why:

  • Honey coats your throat and soothes it by reducing irritation. Honey also has antibacterial properties, and the sweetness can calm the throat’s nerve endings and reduce coughing.
  • Whiskey (a small amount too much can dehydrate you) breaks up and thins mucus. Whiskey also dilates the blood vessels on the surface of the throat, so immune cells in your blood can multiply and fight the infection.
  • Spices stimulate saliva production, improving both hydration and mucus flow in your throat.

6. Rest

The skinny: Put your head on your pillow at a decent hour and close your eyes. Repeat as necessary.

Doctor’s advice: Don’t underestimate physically resting your body and voice. But beware: Lying flat can sometimes cause swelling due to an increase in pressure at the back of the throat. Instead, try elevating the bed or sitting propped up or in a chair to alleviate the pain and discomfort.

Two home remedies for sore throat to avoid

Dr. Allan warns that not all sore throat remedies are created equal. He recommends you pass on these two:

  • Apple cider vinegar (“It probably has some antibacterial properties, but that’s not going to do much for the sore throat itself.”)
  • Essential oils (“They haven’t been well-studied or clinically proven for safety or effectiveness.”)

And avoid things that can irritate your throat, including:

    .
  • Smoking.
  • Acidic foods or spicy foods.
  • Lying down immediately after you eat, especially if you have acid reflux.

When to see a doctor about throat pain

Dr. Allan says to use common sense when deciding whether to seek out medical care. Call a doctor if you:

  • Have throat pain that’s severe, prolonged or not improving, or stretches into your ear.
  • Have trouble swallowing, breathing or opening your mouth.
  • Are coughing up blood or have blood in your saliva.
  • Feel enlarged lymph nodes, or lumps, in your neck.
  • Have white patches on the back of your throat or a rash, possible signs of strep throat or scarlet fever.
  • Have a high fever.
  • Lose your voice for more than a week or two.

And remember, when it comes to illnesses, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of hot toddies. Wash your hands often. And if you do get sick, Dr. Allan advises immediately replacing your toothbrush with a fresh, germ-free one.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy


Does Gargling Salt Water Actually Help Soothe a Sore Throat?

Mom always made this salty concoction when you had strep.

When you were a kid, being stuck at home when you were feeling under the weather had its perks. You&rsquod get to cozy up on the couch and watch The Price Is Right, and your mom would make you chicken soup to help your cold symptoms and let you have a popsicle to soothe your aching throat.

But not all of your mom&rsquos remedies were as tasty. Exhibit A: salt water. Moms around the world love mixing up that warm salt water for their kids to gargle, claiming it helps soothe the pain of a sore throat. Was mom right? Or have children been suffering through this yucky tasting remedy for generations?

Guess what? Your mom was right. Gargling those salty concoctions is recommended by doctors and backed by research.

The Science Behind a Sore Throat

A sore throat, also called pharyngitis, can be caused by a number of reasons, but most people associate them with mono, strep throat, flu, or tonsillitis. Sore throats usually mean you have an infection caused by a virus or bacteria (but smoking and allergies can also result in throat pain).

For example, a sore throat from mononucleosis is caused by a virus getting lodged into the lymph system, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS). This enlarges the tonsils (as well as the glands in the neck, armpits, and groin). Similarly, tonsillitis is a bacterial infection of the lymphatic tissues on each side of the back of the throat.

Regardless of the cause, a sore throat usually creates swelling and inflammation in the throat that makes it difficult to talk, breathe, or swallow.

Home Remedies for Sore Throat

First and foremost, doctors recommend keeping the throat moist. A dry throat increases irritation, making throat pain worse. Drinking more liquids than usual helps (and can help prevent dehydration as well, which is more common when you&rsquore ill).

Doctors recommend a number of other ways to keep the throat moist and soothe pain: Sucking on lozenges, ice chips, or popsicles, using a vaporizer or humidifier in the room, or consuming warm liquids like tea or brothy soups. (Bonus: The warm liquids can also help relieve congestion in the sinuses, which can help you get sleep when you&rsquore stuffed up.)

But gargling salt water in particular may help your sore throat. It may sound like some bizarre old wives&rsquo tale, but this method really works: Salt acts like a water magnet and pulls the excess fluid from the inflamed throat. This can help wash out the infection.

To gargle with salt water, mix 1/2 teaspoon of salt in one cup of warm water several times throughout the day, according to AAO-HNS.

Most sore throats can be treated at home, but see a doctor if your sore throat:


Using Salt for Mouth Sores

If you’ve ever had a mouth sore, then you know that they’re no fun. Some common mouth sores that people get include:

    : These sores are highly contagious and are a result of the herpes simplex virus. Many people are born with this virus or get it from contact with others. You get a tiny, fluid-filled blister on and around your lips that are painful.
  • Canker Sores: These are sores that can come on as a result of medicine use, stress, anxiety, and more. They happen inside the mouth on the cheeks and gums and are either white or yellow with a red ring around them. You can see rapid mouth healing of these sores by using salt-water rinses.
  • Fungal Infections: One such example is thrush. This is a buildup of yeast in the mouth that spreads to the soft tissues of your mouth. It can lead to difficulty swallowing, a sore throat and white spots in your mouth.
  • Abscess: If bacteria gets into the nerve of your tooth (through severe tooth decay that hasn’t been fixed), it can leave you with an abscess. This is a pocket of infection that can cause a severe toothache, burning, heat, and sensitivity to hot and cold. It can also lead to sickness and fever if it’s not treated.
  • Wounds: You may have bit your tongue, lip or cheek or had an orthodontic wire or bracket break. Sometimes these appliances have a pokey wire that cuts the inside of your mouth. If that is the case, see your orthodontist immediately to correct the problem. Some dental treatments—especially tooth extractions—require stitches and leave you with a wound that needs to heal for some time.


ENTA Blog

16 Best Sore Throat Remedies to Make You Feel Better Fast, According to Doctors

Some home remedies only mask pain&mdashbut these solutions can help you get rid of your sore throat completely.

Sore throat symptoms can be rough. Your saliva goes down like sandpaper, every cough makes you wince, and the only thing you can think about is making that lump in the back of your throat go away.

But to ease the pain, you need to understand what&rsquos causing your sore throat in the first place: dry air, smoking, acid reflux, viral infections like the flu or common cold, and bacterial infections like strep can all lead to a sore throat.

In general, a viral infection usually comes with other symptoms, like muscle aches and fatigue, along with your sore throat, says Chester Griffiths MD, an otolaryngologist at Providence Saint John&rsquos Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. With a bacterial infection, on the other hand, the pain is usually more focused on your throat and the soreness tends to be pretty severe, Dr. Griffiths says. You may also have intense pain when you swallow, along with a high fever.

Exposure to smoke, breathing in dry air, and having acid reflux tends to feel &ldquovery different&rdquo from an infection, says Jason Abramowitz, MD, an ear, nose, and throat specialist at ENT and Allergy Associates. &ldquoUsually patients do not feel as sick overall [and] the pain is also usually not as severe,&rdquo he says.

The good news: Sipping warm teaand sucking on cough drops or zinc lozenges can usually soothe the throat irritation and inflammation that are causing your agony, says Brett Comer, MD, a head and neck surgeon at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.

Still, some of your favorite home remedies may just be masking the pain&mdashnot actually resolving it. If you really want to get rid of a sore throat, reach for these best OTC cures next time you&rsquore feeling achy.