How to Soothe a COVID Sore Throat — Fast


In the past, when you came down with a bad sore throat, you may have grabbed a large tea from Starbucks, popped a few cough drops and chugged along with your day. But this year, a scratchy, irritated throat has taken on a whole new meaning: Sore throat is one of the most common symptoms of the Omicron variant of COVID. According to a recent British survey, 69% of COVID patients reported a sore throat, making it far more common than symptoms that were hallmarks of the earlier strains, such as loss and taste and smell (another study confirmed that sore throat is more common from Omicron than it was from Delta variants of the virus).

“As the COVID virus has evolved, it has started causing more upper respiratory symptoms and fewer lower respiratory symptoms during its disease course,” says Peter Ashman, MD, an otolaryngologist with ENT and Allergy Associates in New York. “This means that sore throat has become a much more common symptom as a result. Coughing and nasal symptoms have also become more common.” He points out that all that coughing and sneezing has also resulted in increased amounts of virus being released into the environment — which makes this strain more transmissible.

What causes a COVID sore throat?

In general, sore throat is most commonly caused by a virus, and whether you catch COVID, the common cold or a flu, it happens the same way: The virus runs through your bloodstream and binds with certain types of cells, says Shawn Allen, MD, a rhinologist and ENT specialist at My Houston Surgeons. “It can affect the lining that runs down your nose or the throat toward the airways,” he explains. This causes inflammation at the back of the throat, which makes it feel scratchy and hoarse.

What is the best way to treat a COVID sore throat?

While your body will eventually fight off the virus and the sore throat on its own, there are certain things you can do to feel better in the meantime.

  • Get plenty of rest. You may be anxious to keep up with your work virtually when you have COVID, but it’s important to rest to allow your body to fight off the infection, says Dr. Ashman. “Working or undergoing vigorous activity can irritate your throat further by inducing stress and causing dryness.”
  • Take OTC pain meds: Pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help ease the agony of a sore throat. If you are able to take ibuprofen, some studies show that it relieves sore throats better than acetaminophen in general, says Dr. Ashman.
  • Drink up: While the 8-glasses-of-water-a-day rule may or may not be accurate, now is a good time to follow it. Hot liquids, in particular, can help soothe inflammation in the throat, but keeping your body hydrated with water, tea or soup is an important part of recovery.
  • Suck on ice chips: Taking your water in frozen form can help, too. “Over time, the cold can help provide a numbing sensation in the throat,” says Dr. Allen.
  • Go on voice rest: Take a tip from professional singers, who know that the silent treatment can help a voice recover. It’s easy enough in this digital age to just text any requirements for takeout to your partner or friends while you isolate quietly behind closed doors.
  • Soothe with honey: Honey can help coat the back of the throat to ease pain or dryness, says Dr. Ashman. You can mix it in to tea or hot water, try honey lozenges, or even suck down a spoonful (note: don’t give honey to children under age 1).
  • Gargle with salt water: A salty gargle has been shown to significantly reduce the pain and inflammation of a sore throat. Dr. Allen recommends experimenting with the concentration of salt to water (between a ¼ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon per 8 oz of water) to find the mix that feels most comfortable for you.
  • Get steamy: “One of the challenges with recovering from a sore throat during the winter is that the cool, dry air is your enemy,” says Dr. Allen. He recommends keeping a humidifier in your room and turning your thermostat up a little higher. Warm, steamy showers can also help soothe the airway.
  • Suck on lozenges: While there are plenty of throat sprays available in the drugstore to soothe your throat, Dr. Allen points out that they only give very temporary relief. He prefers lozenges, which soothe as long as they stay in your mouth. Dr. Ashman recommends looking for sprays or lozenges with menthol, benzocaine or dyclonine listed in the ingredients.
  • Avoid irritating foods: Coffee and spicy foods can irritate the throat, and Dr. Allen also recommends avoiding foods that you have to work on getting down the throat, such as chips or crusty bread.
  • Quit smoking: It’s always bad for you, but it makes you feel even worse when you have a sore throat.

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Can you still get a COVID sore throat if you’re vaccinated?

Yes, but chances are, if you’re vaxxed and boosted, your sore throat might not become as severe or last as long. While there haven’t been any studies specifically about vaccination status and the severity of sore throat, studies show that those who are vaccinated are more likely to have more mild symptoms and a reduced duration of symptoms and overall severity, says Dr. Ashman. According to a 2022 study in BMJ, vaccinated and boosted people had symptoms of Omicron for an average of 4.4 days, compared with a general average of 6.87 days. “Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that the vaccine may also reduce the severity of a COVID sore throat overall.”

How long does a COVID sore throat last?

A sore throat is usually one of the first COVID symptoms to appear, and it can last from two or three days up to a week, says Dr. Allen. “However, with the more extreme cases of COVID, we’re seeing some sore throats last upwards of several weeks,” he adds.

Can Paxlovid help with a sore throat?

This antiviral treatment Paxlovid, which must be taken within the first five days of the onset of COVID, can help your body clear the virus and limit the course of the disease, which, in theory, will then reduce the duration of your sore throat. To be eligible to take Paxlovid, you must have mild-to-moderate symptoms and have risk factors, which can include being over 65, having a chronic health condition, or being immunocompromised.

When should I be concerned?

If you develop any trouble swallowing or breathing, notice voice changes, have a high fever, check in with your doctor immediately, says Dr. Ashman. Both experts stress that if the sore throat lasts more than two weeks, you should see your primary care physician or a throat specialist to see if there is something else going on, such as long COVID, a throat ulcer or a malignancy.

Headshot of Marisa Cohen

Marisa Cohen is a contributing editor in the Hearst Lifestyle Group’s Health Newsroom, who has covered health, nutrition, parenting, and culture for dozens of magazines and websites over the past two decades.

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