The best medicine for sore throat relief in 2022 – Insider

A COVID sore throat seems to be one of the foremost (and most irritating) symptoms of the Omicron variant, along with being one of the most bothersome of cold and flu symptoms. But it’s also one of the most manageable symptoms.
The best medicine for a sore throat has ingredients in it to help soothe and sometimes slightly numb that itchy, tender feeling. Now, sore throat medicine won’t actually help you get better faster. But it can help you feel more comfortable until the viral infection, bacterial infection, or allergy irritant passes.
Be sure to call your doc if you’re still using sore throat remedies after 48 hours. The products could downplay the severity of whatever bacteria or viral infection you have – a cold, flu, COVID-19, or another virus, New Jersey-based pediatrician Connie Domingo, MD, told Insider. And if you’re having difficulty breathing or swallowing or have a prolonged fever, call your doctor immediately.
With COVID and cold and flu season full-on, we spoke with three health experts who provided their recommendations for throat-soothing products, including ones for quick relief, all-natural products, and some for kids.
Best overall: Chloraseptic spray, $6.79 on Walgreens
Chloraseptic provides quick relief with only a couple of sprays and all our experts confirm it’s highly effective. 
Best cough drops: Cepacol cough drops, $3.29 on Target
Cepacol cough drops are small to stash in a pocket and use two oral anesthetics to numb and soothe your throat.
Best natural: Zarbee’s Natural Honey Cough Soothers, $8.99 on Amazon
Zarbee’s products are more than 96% honey, which is one of the best natural remedies for a sore throat as it helps suppress coughing.
Best home remedy: Numi Throat Soother Tea, $4.93 on Amazon
Numi Ginger Lemon Tea combines soothing heat from the warm water with natural throat soothers.
Best for kids: Little Remedies Sore Throat Pops, $4.99 on Amazon
Little Remedies Sore Throat Pops use pectin and honey for natural sore throat relief, in a form your kids will love.
Chloraseptic provides quick relief with only a couple of sprays and all our experts confirm it’s highly effective. 
Pros: Nearly instant relief, doctor supported, wildly available
Cons: You need to spit it out after using which can be a minor inconvenience, tastes bad
Chloraseptic is the sore throat medicine most recommended by our experts for their patients. It’s super affordable at $6, and it not only soothes the pain but also numbs it. Chloraseptic’s active ingredient, phenol, is commonly used in products like lotions, tooth pain drops, and cold sore treatments — all of which are made for ailments that require strong, immediate relief. 
A spray, Chloraseptic is the strongest treatment option, making it one of the best things for a sore throat. The brand also claims to be strong enough to alleviate throat pain caused by tonsillitis. 
This spray can be taken every two hours — just remember, you have to spit the liquid out after 15 seconds since there is a slight risk of toxicity from swallowing phenol. But, as someone who’s tried it, trust me: You won’t be tempted to swallow it. Even though it’s cherry-flavored, I could still taste the medicine. However, it’s so effective that it’s definitely worth the bad taste for 15 seconds.
Cepacol cough drops are small to stash in a pocket and use two oral anesthetics to numb and soothe your throat.
Pros: They melt slowly for a long-lasting numbing effect, affordable
Cons: Pain relief only lasts about two hours, mild interactions with acetaminophen
Many people like a lozenge when they have a cough since the medicine is small enough to fit in your pocket or purse and it can be nice to suck on something soothing over time. If you prefer a cough drop or portability is your goal, Cepacol may make more sense than buying a bottle of Chloraseptic spray. 
A 2018 study out of Germany found sucking on cough drops with benzocaine, among other ingredients, for three days significantly helped improve throat pain and made swallowing easier for folks with a sore throat. Meanwhile, an older 2012 study found similar benefits from lozenges with benzocaine alone.
For less than $4, Cepacol drops help to soothe and numb your throat, similar to Chloraseptic. But these cough drops use two oral anesthetics – benzocaine and menthol – instead of phenol.
There are two formulas: Cepacol Instamax which has the added cool of menthol, and Cepacol Extra Strength. We recommend Extra Strength since not everyone loves menthol. Also, it comes in honey lemon flavor, which means you can also drop the lozenge into hot tea if you want to dilute the medicinal flavor. 
Cepacol cough drops don’t eliminate a sore throat entirely though, so it might not be strong enough for tonsillitis. Also, Cepacol may mildly interact with acetaminophen if you’re using both for a long time, so it’s best to use a different sore throat relief if you’re also taking the pain reliever for, say, body aches from the flu or tonsillitis. Or opt for ibuprofen over acetaminophen, suggests our medical reviewer Jason R. McKnight, MD, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
Zarbee’s products are more than 96% honey, which is one of the best natural remedies for a sore throat as it helps suppress coughing.
Pros: Natural ingredients; no processed sugars, artificial colors, or artificial flavors; tasty
Cons: Expensive, not suitable for kids under 5 
“Honey is great because it coats the throat,” Richard Bowen, PA-C, a primary care provider in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Georgetown, SC told Insider. This reduces the irritation, which is why some use honey to soothe burns. As an anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antiviral, studies show that honey can help with all kinds of healing.
Bowen says honey won’t get rid of your cold, but he does feel that it is a great natural remedy for a sore throat as it soothes the pain and irritation by tackling the inflammation. 
In fact, naturopathic doctor Melanie Keller, ND, says that honey is her first recommendation for any cold symptoms. “Honey has been used both as food and medicine since ancient times.” She adds that research shows honey has an inhibitory effect on around 60 species of bacteria and some fungi and viruses. 
We like Zarbee’s cough drops in particular because its formula is entirely honey and natural flavorings, so there’s more of the natural medicine and no processed sugars, artificial colors, or artificial flavors. The medicine comes in lozenge form, so it’s less messy than a liquid-based honey formula. And most of all, it tastes good.
Note that the brand doesn’t recommend these cough drops for children under five, thanks to the risk of botulism and choking. The price of the lozenges is a little steep but if you’re on a budget, you can easily use these to supplement between doses of other, cheaper medicine on our list.
Numi Ginger Lemon Tea combines soothing heat from the warm water with natural throat soothers.
Pros: Tea is a great way to rehydrate and soothe your throat, cost-effective
Cons: May not be strong enough for severe pain  
While Dr. Domingo is a big fan of Chloraseptic spray, she says warm water tea is actually her first recommendation to patients, since it keeps you hydrated and may potentially help open up your airways. “I usually recommend hot water with lemon as well as ginger tea.” She adds that Numi has all of that combined, along with an ingredient panel that gets a thumbs up.
Dr. Keller also likes this easy, natural remedy for a sore throat. Its ingredients of g​Ginger, lemongrass licorice, and lemon verbena “may help to decrease inflammation and soothe irritation in the lining of the throat,” she explains.
And she likes that it contains antioxidant-packed decaf green tea, pointing to a 2016 Iranian study that found gargling green tea was more effective at lowering sore throat pain for patients who had had a tube down their throat during surgery, compared to water.
When I tried Numi Ginger Lemon Tea, I thought the taste was decent, though I did find the licorice root to be slightly off-putting. Nonetheless, the tea was still quite drinkable. It would be good with a bit more added honey in it (which then also allows you to score the throat-soothing benefits of tea, mentioned above). As is, this tea is an especially great option for children with a sore throat, like Dr. Domingo’s pediatric patients.
Little Remedies Sore Throat Pops use pectin and honey for natural sore throat relief, in a form your kids will love.
Pros: Tasty, soothing, medicine-free 
Cons: Contain honey and are a choking hazard so not safe for kids under 3 
If your child has a sore throat from the flu, strep throat, or COVID-19, chances are, they are already taking other medicine to help with all their symptoms. Little Remedies Sore Throat Pops will be a welcome break from the icky-tasting stuff, and since they contain only natural throat-soothers, they can be safely combined with other medicine.
Formulated as a lollypop, this product’s active ingredient is pectin, which Keller says is a natural anti-inflammatory that soothes irritation. Pectin is a fiber found in fruit that has many uses, one being that it coats the throat. Each lolly pop also has a small amount of honey in them to further coat the throat.
When I tried these pops, I found they had a pleasant, slightly sweet taste compared to the numbing products. These lollypops eliminate a bunch of unknown ingredients, including preservatives, and they are also gluten-free. Though they have fewer artificial sweeteners than other treatments, these suckers do still contain honey and corn syrup. Keller says the latter shouldn’t worry you too much — corn syrup is safe, just not healthy in high amounts.
All the medicine for a sore throat included in our guide was reviewed by our physicians who regularly treat cold and flu symptoms. What’s more, I tested them all myself for their throat-coating and -numbing abilities as well as for their taste.
Our experts say it’s important to look for ingredients that have a soothing and numbing effect. This includes benzocaine, phenol, and menthol for over-the-counter medicine. But keep in mind that there is a slight risk of toxicity from swallowing phenol, so you need to spit out the spray or mouthwash. And while it is kid-safe, check with your pediatrician before use with younger children. 
If you’re looking for natural remedies for a sore throat, honey is your go-to for soothing the rawness that comes with coughing or strep, according to Keller. But make sure you read the ingredient label: Corn syrup and preservatives may be on the inactive ingredient list, and though they are safe, some may prefer to avoid them. 
If you’re looking for medicine for sore throat and cough that can be used by the whole family, Dr. Domingo recommends checking the recommended age of the medicine on the box. Some all-natural ingredients like honey shouldn’t be given to very young children (under 1), and you should look closely at the ingredient list for potential allergens and sugar additives. Any children’s products should be discussed with your pediatrician, including all-natural ones.
It’s totally fine to opt for generic brands, which will provide the same relief as long as they also contain one of the active ingredients above. 
If you are experiencing other cold symptoms, cold medicine may help soothe a sore throat, especially if they contain acetaminophen (like Tylenol Cold and Sinus). However, many contain dextromethorphan, which can make you sleepy.
And if you are taking cold medicine but want further pain relief for your throat, be sure to check whether the two medicines are safe to take together. Generally, throat sprays and cough drops have no known interactions with other medicines, but our top cough drop pick, Cepacol, shouldn’t be taken alongside acetaminophen (though is fine to take with ibuprofen).
Sore throat medicine won’t kill the virus or bacteria causing your pain. But the best medicine for a sore throat will help provide temporary relief, particularly Chloraseptic spray, which helps numb your throat with just a few sprays in a matter of seconds.
Yes, a sore throat is one of the common symptoms of COVID-19. However, there are a lot of other illnesses, big and small, that cause a sore throat as well, including the common cold , the flu, strep throat, mono, GERD, as well as allergies, and dry air. If you’re worried your sore throat is a sign of the coronavirus, the best way to confirm is to take a rapid COVID test or molecular lab test at a local facility or via an at-home COVID test.
Either acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) can help with the pain of a sore throat. But Advil or ibuprofen also helps relieve inflammation, so you may score more sore throat relief by taking that. Just make sure you check that no other sore throat medicine you’re taking interacts with either type of pain reliever, or that no other medication you’re taking contains ibuprofen, which is an easy way to get too much of the pain reliever, points out Dr. McKnight.
The most effective strategy for how to treat a sore throat, according to our experts, is to gargle with salt water, take a pain reliever, stay hydrated (especially with throat-soothing tea and honey), and breathe in humidity.
For this article we consulted with:
This article was also medically reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.

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