You know the feeling when a sore throat is coming on. Maybe it starts as a tiny tickle when you swallow. Well, that little twitch can quickly turn into the more uncomfortable symptoms of sore throat, like dryness, swelling, scratchiness, and even difficulty with swallowing, talking, or breathing.

Your throat may be sore because your allergies flared up or because the air in your bedroom is too dry. A bacterial infection like strep throat might be to blame, in which case a doctor may prescribe an antibiotic. But most cases of sore throat come along with viral infections, like when you've caught a cold, the flu, or mononucleosis. Since antibiotics won't do anything to combat a virus, you'll just have to wait it out.

No matter what the source or extent of the soreness, when your throat hurts, you just want relief. Think about these throat-soothing strategies:

  • Feed your sore throat with foods that go down easy. Soft, mushy foods cause less friction going down. Add a bit of chill - from ice cream, frozen yogurt, or a popsicle - and you'll feel a nice, numbing sensation. For soothing warmth, spoon down simple, broth-based soups. Vegetables will give a soup some extra healthy oomph; just chop them finely and cook them well so they're easy to swallow.

  • Sip soothing liquids. When you're sick with any type of infection, you need to stay hydrated. Choose smooth, mellow liquids like warm water, unsweetened juice, and mild decaffeinated teas featuring ingredients like lemon, ginger, or honey.

  • Rinse away the pain. Stir ½ teaspoon of salt into a glass of warm water, gargle it back into your throat, and then spit the water out. Repeat as often as you feel you need to.

  • Give your saliva a boost. A congested, stuffy nose may have you breathing from the mouth. And a dry mouth can aggravate an already tender throat. Suck on a hard candy or throat lozenge, or chew on sugarless gum to keep your saliva working for you. Sometimes, all you have to do to stimulate saliva is to think of something appetizing or with a strong flavour - imagine sucking on a lemon!

  • Keep your passageways as clear as possible. Do what you can to keep your nose clear to avoid mouth-breathing and to prevent postnasal drip, since both can really aggravate a sore throat. Blow your nose gently, one nostril at a time. Use saline nasal spray to moisten and loosen mucus. Or do nasal irrigation using a neti pot or a nasal syringe.

  • Moisten the air around you. Air that is too dry - whether because of the climate or because of heaters and furnaces - dries out your airways, too, making a sore throat more painful and increasing cough. Switch on a warm- or cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer. If you don't have one, fill a shallow pan with water, allowing it to evaporate into the air of your room.

  • Get some steam spirit. Turn on the hot water tap in your bathroom sink and let the room fill with steam. Drape a towel over your head and lean over the sink to breathe in some of the steam.

  • Spray on relief. Drugstores carry over-the-counter (OTC) numbing sprays. Squirt a few shots of the numbing spray into your throat, and you'll soon feel an anaesthetizing effect. The numbing sensation gives you a momentary break from the aches.

  • Try your OTC options. If you can swallow a pill, try an acetaminophen or ibuprofen to calm the pain for awhile. Children can take age-appropriate doses of both, but never give aspirin to anyone younger than 18, as it can trigger Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal condition. Cold and flu remedies often contain these ingredients, so watch for them on the labels. You can also try lozenges specifically for sore throats. Similar to the sprays, they provide some numbing relief.

See a doctor if sore throat is accompanied by any of the following:

  • sore throat that lasts longer than 1 week
  • fever of 38°C (100.4°F) or higher
  • pus in the back of the throat
  • tender and swollen lymph glands in the neck
  • rough, red rash
  • difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • excessive drooling (if the person is a child)
  • joint pain
  • hoarseness lasting longer than 2 weeks
  • blood in saliva
  • dehydration (symptoms include thirst, decreased urination)
  • recurring sore throats

    Amy Toffelmire