With respiratory viruses on the rise across much of the U.S., you may find yourself struggling with a sore throat in the coming days.
But it can be a real challenge to figure out what exactly will help your sore throat finally go away. Fortunately, there’s one surprising home remedy you may not have tried: pickles.
Unlike many of the other cold and flu trends going viral on social media, pickles and pickle juice actually have some science to support their use, experts tell TODAY.com.
What are some common causes of a sore throat?
“Sore throats are most commonly caused by respiratory viruses,” Dr. Linda Yancey, an infectious diseases specialist at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, tells TODAY.com.
While strep throat, which is caused by bacteria, can also lead to a sore throat, only about 30% of kids and 10% of adults with a sore throat have strep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The rest of cases are usually due to a respiratory virus.
Allergies and smoking, as well as secondhand smoke, can also cause a sore throat, according to the CDC. In rare instances, a fungal infection or medications can also lead your throat to feel sore, Yancey says.
Signs of a sore throat include:
- A tickling sensation in the back of your throat
- A dry, scratchy throat
- Pain swallowing
- Coughing, usually due to post-nasal drip from a runny nose, which is a sign you do not have strep
Sore throat home remedies
One of the best ways to get fast relief for a sore through is to gargle or consume a substance that is more concentrated than the fluids in your body, which will draw the water out of the tissues, reducing swelling and some of the pain, Yancey explains. The following sore throat remedies provide temporary relief for this reason:
- Gargling salt water
- Eating a pickle or drinking pickle juice
- Eating a spoonful of honey
- Drinking a warm, sweet drink
- Sucking on cough drops
Pickles and pickle juice for sore throat
Pickle juice may work to soothe a sore throat thanks to its main ingredients of salt and vinegar, Su-Nui Escobar, a registered dietitian based in Miami, Florida, tells TODAY.com. “It helps moisten your throat, reduce inflammation and fight bacteria, potentially easing discomfort,” she adds.
Although there's little research on eating pickles or drinking pickle juice to relieve a sore throat, experts say pickle juice does have several health benefits. These include antioxidants to help fight infection, probiotic properties to keep your gut bacteria in balance, electrolytes, which boost athletes' recovery, and preventing blood sugar spikes, according to Cleveland Clinic.
Plus, existing research supports the use of salt-water gargles as an effective remedy to relieve sore throats, so this “principal should apply to all concentrated salt solutions," Yancey explains.
Escobar adds that she thinks "it is fine to try natural remedies," provided that they're not harmful, and while she's not aware of any research supporting the use of pickles for sore throat, she think it's safe to try for most people.
How to use pickles for sore throat
Escobar recommends gargling pickle juice instead of drinking it.
Yancey says drinking pickle juice and eating a pickle should yield the same benefits. But if you have a child with a sore throat, you may find it's easier to give a pickle to snack on for fast relief.
“Salt water gargles work in adults, but it is hard to convince a kid,” Yancey adds.
If you or your child have a restricted salt diet, do not use pickles, their juices or salt water to treat a sore throat, Yancey advises. (If you have diabetes, you should also avoid honey or sweet tea to soothe your sore throat, she adds. And never give honey to babies less than 1 year old.
When to see a doctor for a sore throat
Yancey recommends seeing a doctor when the following accompanying symptoms with a sore throat:
- Persistent fever of over 101 degrees Fahrenheit
- White patches inside your mouth (which could indicate a fungal infection)
- Trouble eating or drinking
If anyone in your home has been diagnosed with strep and you start to develop a sore throat, it's a good idea to see a doctor then, too.
Generally most sore throats get better on their own within one week, but if symptoms persist longer, see your health care provider.