Best otc for sore throat

Allergies, Cold, or Flu: Why Do You Feel Icky?

When you get a sore throat, the most likely cause is an infection from a virus like a cold or the flu. It usually goes away on its own in 3-7 days. But that doesn’t mean you’ve got to put up with that scratchy, raw feeling. Try these tactics to get some relief.

How You Treat It

Take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Acetaminophen or NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen and naproxen can take the edge off many cold symptoms, including your sore throat. Make sure you follow the directions on the label.

If you have other medical problems or take other meds, check with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter drugs.

Deal with your nasal symptoms. Mucus from your sinuses can drain into your throat, adding to its soreness. If you have a runny nose or you’re stuffed up, an over-the-counter decongestant or antihistamine may help.

If hay fever is causing the drip of mucus into your throat, allergy treatments will ease your soreness, too.

Try a throat spray. Over-the-counter versions of these “numbing” products can help. Herbal sprays with echinacea and sage may also make you feel better.

Take zinc. If you have a cold, some studies show that you can ease symptoms if you take zinc lozenges every 2 hours. They seem to work best if you start to use them within 48 hours after you get sick.

Gargle with salt water. Swish warm, salty water in the back of your throat a few times a day to bring down swelling and ease pain. Dissolve 1/4 teaspoon in 1/2 cup of warm water.

Keep Your Throat Moist

Sip plenty of liquids to stay hydrated. Warm drinks — not hot ones — can soothe your throat. Try broth or herbal tea with honey or lemon. Caffeinated drinks like coffee or soda may dehydrate you, so skip them.

Suck on a throat lozenge, crushed ice, ice pop, or a piece of hard candy to get your saliva flowing. Try a peppermint, since its main ingredient, menthol, thins mucus and helps break up it up.

If you still have a sore throat after seven days, make an appointment with your doctor.Cold and flu season is here, and with it comes a host of uncomfortable symptoms including the dreaded sore throat.

Sore throats tend to be caused by a virus and often occur just before the start of a cold or flu, but can also be due to irritation from coughing or mucus running down the back of the throat. Sore throats can also be caused by bacteria called Streptococcus.

While a scratchy throat can be uncomfortable and at times debilitating, the good news is you can take fast-acting over-the-counter remedies without having to visit your GP.

How do I cure my sore throat?

Sore throats are self-limiting and tend to get better on their own in about three to seven days. Antibiotics are not usually required.

🤒 If you still have a sore throat after 7 days, make an appointment with your GP.

Medicines available from the pharmacy can help to relief the symptoms of a sore throat, including lozenges, syrups, throat sprays and painkillers.

Our resident pharmacist Rita Ghelani recommends the following over-the-counter medicines:

Lozenges for sore throats

Strepsils lozenges


Tyrozets lozenges


Menthol sweets


Grether’s pastilles


➡️ Throat lozenges: if you have a mild sore throat, sucking on a lozenge can help to lubricate the throat, as the sucking action helps to produce saliva. Also, ingredients such as lemon and honey in these products can help to relieve irritation and stop the throat feeling dry.

Syrups for sore throats

Honey & lemon


Simple linctus


Cough & sore throat


Buttercup syrup


➡️ Syrups: if your throat is dry and scratchy, using a syrup of linctus containing glycerine, honey and lemon can help soothe a sore throat by providing lubrication.

Sprays for sore throats

Anaesthetic spray


Covonia spray


Difflam Spray


Anaesthetic spray


➡️ Throat spray: if you have a sore throat that is very painful and making it difficult for you to swallow, using a throat spray containing a local anaesthetic could be a good option. These work quickly and as the spray is directed to the exact point of pain at the back of the throat and it works by numbing the pain.

Painkillers for sore throats

Nurofen Meltlets


Dispersible Aspirin


Disprin soluble


Panadol Actifast


➡️ Pain killers: for extremely inflamed sore throats, ibuprofen tablets will help. Gargling with soluble aspirin (300mg strength) is also an option, as this targets the inflamed areas at the back of the throat.

Related Story Rita Ghelani (BPharm, MRPharmS) Pharmacist A UK registered practising pharmacist with over 20 years’ experience, Rita is a member of the medical journalists’ association (MJA) and has a wealth of experience in community pharmacy.

Sore throat treatments

Sore throats often clear up in a few days, even without treatment. The infection that causes a sore throat is usually viral, and an antibiotic is of no benefit for viral infections.

Self-help measures, such as sucking ice, can help soothe the throat, and products from your pharmacist can help reduce the inflammation and ease the pain.


Most people do not need antibiotics for sore throats because most cases of sore throat are caused by viruses, which are not affected by antibiotics.

Antibiotics may be needed to treat some bacterial throat infections, such as group A streptococcal infection (strep throat). However, even among people who have a bacterial throat infection, not all will need antibiotics. Your doctor will be able to advise you as to whether antibiotics are needed.

Possible side effects of antibiotics include nausea, diarrhoea, headache and rash.

If your doctor does prescribe antibiotics, make sure you complete the whole course, even if your symptoms clear up before you have finished the antibiotics. Failure to complete a course of antibiotics can cause the infection to spread or worsen. It also can contribute to the problem of antibiotic resistance in the community, where bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.

Analgesic medicines (painkillers)

Paracetamol, when taken regularly, is useful for treating the pain of sore throat. Paracetamol can also be used to treat any associated fever. Many cold and flu medicines contain paracetamol, so check the ingredients of any medicines that you take to ensure you don’t overdose on paracetamol.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, are useful for treating pain and fever, but should be used with caution in people with stomach problems, indigestion and asthma because they may worsen these conditions.

Aspirin can reduce pain and fever, but it can cause stomach upsets. Also, some people with asthma are sensitive to aspirin. Aspirin should not be used in children under 16 years old, as it can cause a serious condition called Reye’s syndrome in children.

Sore throat lozenges, sprays and solutions

Sore throat lozenges, sprays and gargle solutions are available at pharmacies. These medicines may contain:

  • antiseptics;
  • antibacterials;
  • painkillers;
  • anti-inflammatory medicines; or
  • local anaesthetic.

Some products contain a combination of ingredients.

Some of these medicines are not suitable for certain people (e.g. some antiseptics should not be taken by pregnant or breastfeeding women). Always check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any of these medicines to make sure they are suitable for you and to check the side effects.

Local anaesthetic products numb your throat (and mouth), so when taking these products you should be careful not to eat or drink hot food because this may result in a burnt mouth.

Take care with sweet syrups and lozenges, particularly in children, as the sugar content may cause tooth decay. Lozenges are not recommended for children younger than 4 years due to the risk of choking.


The following self-help measures can help relieve the pain of a sore throat:

  • gargling a salt solution;
  • sucking on ice cubes;
  • drinking warm water with honey and lemon;
  • resting your voice; and
  • getting plenty of sleep.

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Last Reviewed: 27/05/2014


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