The throat is made up of the pharynx and larynx, and the epiglottis, which is a flap of tissue that separates the windpipe and the oesophagus. If this did not do its job correctly, food and drink would end up being inhaled into the lungs.
The throat is closely connected to the mouth, ears, and nose, and other parts of the body. The pharynx allows speech to happen, and food and liquid to move down the throat. The pharynx is joined to the nose by the nasopharynx at the top of the throat, and it is joined to the ear by the eustachian tube. The windpipe in the throat carries air to the bronchi in the lungs. The oesophagus carries food down the throat and into the stomach.
There are adenoids and tonsils in the throat which are there to prevent infection. The larynx contain your vocal chords, which are made up of membranes that behave in a particular way when a certain air pressure is present.
- 1 Sore throats
- 1.1 Treating a sore throat
- 1.2 Laryngitis
- 1.3 The larynx
- 1.4 The larynx has three main functions
- 1.5 The causes of laryngitis
- 1.6 Symptoms of laryngitis
- 1.7 When to get medical attention
- 1.8 How laryngitis is treated
- 1.9 Treating laryngitis at home
- 1.10 Treating the underlying causes
- 1.11 Can laryngitis be prevented?
- 1.12 Home remedies for laryngitis
- 1.13 Apple Cider Vinegar
- 1.14 Onion Syrup
- 1.15 Ginger
- 1.16 Warm Salt Water
- 1.17 Lemon Juice
- 1.18 Garlic
- 1.19 Slippery Elm
- 1.20 Honey
- 1.21 Eucalyptus Oil
- 1.22 Liquorice
- 1.23 Final thoughts
Sore throats can be painful and irritating. Most sore throats are caused by minor illnesses and go away on their own, without medical treatment.
Several conditions can cause a sore throat:
The common cold, which is the most common cause of a sore throat
Laryngitis, which is an infection of the voice box.
Mononucleosis, which is referred to as the “the kissing disease”, and is caused by a viral infection that tends to cause a persistent sore throat.
Other viral infections, such as mumps, or the flu
Strep throat, which usually does not occur with congestion or a cough.
Inflammation or infection of the tonsils (tonsillitis) and sometimes the adenoids (adenoiditis).
An infection of the tissues around the tonsils, which causes an abscess.
Inflammation of the epiglottis (epiglottitis).
Inflammation of the uvula (uvulitis).
In rare cases, sexually transmitted infections (STI), such as gonorrhoea or chlamydia can cause a sore throat.
Irritants and injuries:
A sore throat that lasts for more than a week is often caused by irritants or injuries, such as:
Throat irritation from smoking, air pollution, shouting, or nasal drainage down the back of the throat, which tends to happen after an upper respiratory infection.
Breathing through the mouth when you have allergies or a stuffy nose, which dries out the throat.
Stomach acid that flows backs up into the throat, which may be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Although this often occurs with heartburn, an acid taste in the mouth, or a cough, sometimes a sore throat is the only symptom.
Treating a sore throat
How you treat a sore throat depends on what has caused it. Home treatment is sufficient for many types of sore throat.
Because viral illnesses are the most common cause of a sore throat, the use of antibiotics is not appropriate, as these are meant for bacterial infections.
Unnecessary use of antibiotics can cause allergic reactions and side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, rashes, and yeast infections. Antibiotics also may also kill good bacteria in the body, and encourage the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can be much harder to treat.
This is an illness caused by the inflammation of the larynx (the voice box). Laryngitis usually gets better without treatment in about a week.
The larynx, or voice box, is a tube-like structure found at the entrance of the windpipe (trachea). The lump at the front of your throat, commonly known as the Adam’s apple, is your larynx.
The larynx has three main functions
it helps channel oxygen into your windpipe when you breathe
it acts like a valve, closing off the windpipe when you swallow to prevent food or liquid entering your airways
it contains the vocal cords which vibrate as air passes through them, producing the sound of your voice.
The causes of laryngitis
In most cases, laryngitis is caused by:
a viral infection, such as a cold or flu
damage to your larynx – usually by straining your voice, such as when you have been shouting or singing a lot.
In the case that it has been caused by a cold, or flu, or straining your voice, the symptoms usually go away by themselves in around a week. This is referred to as acute laryngitis.
Laryngitis can have other causes, such as smoking, irritation, or an allergic reaction, and the symptoms can last much longer than a week. This is known as chronic laryngitis.
Symptoms of laryngitis can come on suddenly and they usually get worse over the next 2-3 days.
Symptoms of laryngitis
Feeling like you constantly need to clear your throat
The hoarse voice and speaking difficulties usually worsen day by day and can last for up to a week, even after other symptoms have gone.
In a few cases, the larynx can swell that much that it causes breathing difficulties. This is rare in adults but it can happen in young children who have narrower windpipes.
Laryngitis often occurs with other illnesses, such as a cold, flu, throat infections, or tonsillitis, so you might also have other symptoms such as:
pain when swallowing
feeling tired and achy
When to get medical attention
As laryngitis is a viral infection, it normally gets better on its own, but it’s a good idea to see your doctor if your symptoms are severe, or if they last for longer than 2 weeks.
If you experience breathing difficulties, you should seek medical help straight away.
How laryngitis is treated
Most cases of laryngitis get better without treatment within a week. To help your vocal cords to heal, don’t smoke, avoid smoky environments, drink plenty of fluids, and rest your voice as much as you can.
Treating laryngitis at home
Don’t smoke and avoid smoky, dry or dusty environments
Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, especially water, even though it might hurt to swallow
Take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen which can ease any discomfort, headaches, and fever
Gargle with a mouthwash of warm, salty water or an over-the-counter remedy, or suck lozenges
Inhale menthol and use a humidifier, which might help to soothe and clear your airways.
Avoiding speaking when possible and only speaking softly if you must speak, but don’t whisper, as this can strain the larynx more.
Treating the underlying causes
In some cases, where the cause of laryngitis is an underlying problem, dealing with the problem can alleviate symptoms:
Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics
If smoking or alcohol is causing laryngitis, quitting smoking or reducing how much you drink can help
Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease can be treated with medications called proton pump inhibitors to reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces
If an allergy is causing laryngitis, you may be able to avoid the substance you’re allergic to or take antihistamines to control the immune system’s response to the substance
if straining your voice is causing laryngitis, you might benefit from a treatment called vocal therapy.
Can laryngitis be prevented?
As laryngitis is often caused by a common viral infection, it’s not always possible to prevent it.
However, you can reduce your risk of getting laryngitis by:
making sure you have your annual flu vaccine. You may qualify for it if you have an underlying health condition.
practising good personal hygiene. Always wash your hands before and after eating and after using the toilet
avoiding contact with people who have upper respiratory infections, such as a cold or flu, especially if you’re prone to laryngitis
avoiding irritants, such as smoke or dust, especially if you already have a cold or other respiratory tract infection
not drinking more than the recommended limits of alcohol regularly
raising your head with pillows when you’re sleeping. This will protect your larynx from any acid reflux from your stomach which might occur during sleep
not shouting or singing loudly or for long periods of time. If you use your voice a lot, if you’re a singer, for example, it’s a good idea to get proper training on how to protect your voice from damage.
Home remedies for laryngitis
You might turn to over the counter remedies for laryngitis, but home remedies might be just as effective at alleviating symptoms, or even more so.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has antimicrobial properties that can help to fight infections, so it can be effective against laryngitis. Try this:
Mix 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and a tablespoon of honey in half a cup of water. To boost the effectiveness of the remedy, add some cayenne pepper too. Drink the mixture twice per day.
You can also make a gargle by mixing one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with a glass of warm water. Gargle with the mixture several times per day until your symptoms improve.
Onion syrup is a natural expectorant, so it clears the airways, and it is an effective cure for larynx inflammation. Try this:
Cut up 3-4 medium-sized onions. Simmer the pieces in four cups of water on the stove until the solution thickens to a syrup-like consistency. Mix 5 tablespoons of the onion syrup in a glass of warm water. Add one tablespoon of honey and a few drops of lemon juice. Sip the mixture slowly, and have it once per day.
Fresh ginger is good for the throat because it can soothe the inflamed mucous membranes of the larynx. Try this:
Boil thinly sliced fresh ginger root in a covered pan of water for 10 minutes. Strain the liquid and allow it to cool to room temperature. You can also add some lemon juice and sweeten it with honey to make the mixture more palatable. Drink the tea several times a day.
You can also try sucking on a few candied gingers throughout the day or simply eat a few thin slices of fresh ginger root to get relief from a sore throat.
Warm Salt Water
Warm salt water helps to kill bacteria and promotes healing of any inflammation of the vocal cords and a sore throat. Try this:
Add ½ teaspoon of salt to a cup of warm water and gargle with it. Do this several times per day.
The acidity of lemon juice can kill bacteria and viruses, and relieve some of the symptoms of laryngitis. It can also boost the immune system, due to the vitamin C content. Try this:
Squeeze the juice of a lemon into a glass of warm water.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. Normal salt will suffice if you don’t have sea salt.
Gargle with the solution several times per day until symptoms improve.
The antimicrobial properties of garlic help to kill bacteria and viruses. It also acts as a natural expectorant so it can help to clear the airways. Chew a raw garlic clove up and then swallow it.
You can also chop up a few garlic cloves, place them into a jar and cover it with apple cider vinegar and water. Shake the jar to mix the contents thoroughly and then let it sit for about 4 hours. Add some honey before refrigerating it. Take 1-3 teaspoons of the mixture every 6-8 hours.
Slippery elm contains a compound called mucilage that forms a gel when mixed with water. This gel can relieve throat irritation and inflammation. Try this:
Put some fresh slippery elm in water. It will form a gel. Swallow the gel several times a day to relieve a sore throat.
You can also buy slippery elm lozenges from health food shops.
Be aware that Slippery elm is not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Honey can be very effective for soothing an irritated throat as it helps to coat and soothe the throat. It can also help reduce inflammation and boost immunity from infections.
The easiest way to use honey for a sore throat is to take a spoonful a few times per day.
You can also try making herbal tea with honey and lemon. To make the tea, add the juice from half a lemon and one or two tablespoons of honey to a cup of hot water. You can also add a dash of cayenne pepper to boost the effects. Drink it once or twice per day.
Antiviral and antibacterial properties make eucalyptus oil one of the best remedies to use to soothe a sore throat. Try this:
The best way to use eucalyptus oil is to inhale its steam. Add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a large bowl of hot water. Cover your head with a towel and inhale the steam for 10 minutes. Keep your eyes closed. Follow this remedy twice daily.
You can also try lozenges and cough syrups that contain eucalyptus oil. Many over the counter remedies contain the oil.
Liquorice is another effective remedy for soothing throat irritation, thanks to its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. It also acts as a natural expectorant to get rid of mucus in the airways. Try this:
Boil 1 teaspoon of dried liquorice root in a cup of water for about 5 minutes. Strain and drink the tea up to 3 times per day.
You can also try sucking liquorice lozenges.
Be aware that Liquorice can interact with certain medication and may not be suitable for people with high blood pressure, kidney disease, liver disease, or heart disease. It is also not recommended for use by pregnant and breastfeeding women.
A sore throat can be painful and irritating, but the good news is that a sore throat often goes away on its own without any serious treatment. The most common cause of a sore throat is a virus like the common cold. Rest, plenty of fluids, and painkillers are usually sufficient to treat the symptoms, and you can expect to feel better within a week.
If your sore throat lasts longer however, see your doctor, as it could be down to a bacterial infection or an allergy.
Laryngitis is an infection of the vocal chords. You will know if you have it because you will barely be able to speak. The illness is usually caused by a virus but it can also be caused by straining your voice, by shouting or singing, for example, or being in a smoky environment. Treatment for laryngitis is the same as for any sore throat, but if you think that it is caused by smoke or vocal strain, you should avoid smoking or smoky environments, and get proper training on how to avoid straining your vocal chords, just like professional singers do.
Over the counter remedies can alleviate symptoms, but natural remedies can be just as effective, if not more so. Natural ingredients that you already have in your kitchen like honey, salt, and lemon juice can keep infections at bay, and soothe a sore throat.