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Cold and Flu | Relieve Sore Throat with Herbal Tea

Relieve Sore Throat with Herbal Tea

A traditional herbal tea can relieve sore throat pain, according to a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (2003;9:285–98).

Sore throat, also known as acute pharyngitis, is a painful inflammation of the throat. It is often caused by bacterial or viral infection, but in about one-third of cases the cause is not known. Treatments for acute pharyngitis include anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medicines used both as sprays and gargles and in pill form. Antibiotics can be effective in treating bacterial pharyngitis, but have no effect on the non-bacterial form. Nevertheless, antibiotics are frequently prescribed in cases of non-bacterial acute pharyngitis, increasing the incidence of unnecessary side effects and contributing to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Increased understanding of the safety and efficacy of natural therapies for acute pharyngitis might reduce the inappropriate use of antibiotics and the associated problems.

Herbs with a soothing (demulcent) quality coat irritated membranes and have been used traditionally to treat acute pharyngitis. Throat Coat® is a commercially available herbal tea marketed to relieve sore throats. It contains a blend of herbs including four medicinal herbs known for their soothing qualities: slippery elm bark (Ulmus rubra), marshmallow root (Althea officinalis), licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), and a dried extract of Chinese licorice root (Glycyrrhiza uralensis). In many parts of the world, these demulcent herbs have long histories of use in the treatment of sore throats; however, little research has been done to establish whether they are effective.

Sixty adults with acute pharyngitis participated in the current study. They were each seen in the clinic seven or fewer days after the onset of a sore throat that they were not actively treating. Each participant was randomly assigned to receive either a cup of Throat Coat tea or placebo (a tea made with non-demulcent herbs) immediately at the initial clinic visit. They were then instructed to take 5 to 8 ounces of the tea four to six times per day for as long as needed. Throat pain on swallowing was rated by participants before the first cup of tea, at intervals during the first 24 hours of the study, and once per day for the rest of the study, always between 5 and 15 minutes after finishing a cup of tea; pain relief was rated 1 minute after drinking the first cup of tea, and similarly thereafter. Finally, participants answered sore-throat questionnaires, designed to assess the overall experience of symptoms and the effects of pharyngitis on daily life, every day during the study. Throat pain on swallowing was significantly reduced and pain relief was significantly greater after using Throat Coat tea compared with placebo. The answers to questionnaires indicated a trend toward greater overall improvement with Throat Coat than with placebo, but these differences were not statistically significant.

The results of this study indicate that a widely available herbal tea, composed of demulcent and other herbs, can effectively provide short-term relief of sore throat symptoms. The use of this tea might ease the course of recovery from acute pharyngitis, and therefore help prevent overuse and misuse of antibiotics in the treatment of non-bacterial acute pharyngitis. More studies are needed to determine whether this treatment is also effective for children.

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

Copyright © 2004 Healthnotes, Inc. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of the Healthnotes® content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Healthnotes, Inc. Healthnotes Newswire is for educational or informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or provide treatment for any condition. If you have any concerns about your own health, you should always consult with a healthcare professional. Healthnotes, Inc. shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. Healthnotes and the Healthnotes logo are registered trademarks of Healthnotes, Inc.

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The health information contained in this site is not intended as medical advice and should not be considered a substitute for appropriate medical care. Any products mentioned in studies cited in Healthnotes articles are not necessarily endorsed by Bastyr. As with any product, consult with a natural health practitioner to discuss what may be best for you.


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