Why Does Gargling With Salt Water Help a Sore Throat?

By Rachel Nall

When the spongy mucous membranes in the throat become inflamed, a sore throat occurs. In addition to pain or an itchy, scratchy feeling, the throat also may feel very dry. If a sore throat occurs with few other serious symptoms that do not require medical attention, a good remedy may be to gargle with a salt water solution. According to Reader's Digest, sore throat sufferers should mix a cup of water with 1/4 tsp of salt. The water should be warm to hot (but not burning), and the user should be sure to spit out the water after use. Take caution not to use too much salt, as doing so could dehydrate the mucous membranes, which can result in further pain.

Close-up of the face of a young woman

Sore Throat and Gargling

Feeling a sore throat

When the spongy mucous membranes in the throat become inflamed, a sore throat occurs. In addition to pain or an itchy, scratchy feeling, the throat also may feel very dry. If a sore throat occurs with few other serious symptoms that do not require medical attention, a good remedy may be to gargle with a salt water solution.

According to Reader's Digest, sore throat sufferers should mix a cup of water with 1/4 tsp of salt. The water should be warm to hot (but not burning), and the user should be sure to spit out the water after use. Take caution not to use too much salt, as doing so could dehydrate the mucous membranes, which can result in further pain.

Benefits

Woman with glass of salt water

When the salt water enters the throat, the solution helps to neutralize acids in the throat, restoring the natural pH balance that had been disrupted by the sore throat. By doing this, the burning sensations are relieved and the mucous membranes become less irritated, which can speed healing.

In addition to neutralizing acid, the salt water gargle helps to wash away unwanted mucus and increase the blood flow to the throat. The capillaries then become dilated, which allows for faster circulation of infection-fighting cells.

If the sore throat is due to a sinus infection or allergies, gargling with salt water also may help to reduce inflammation in the back of the throat caused by drainage in the back of the nasal cavity.

Effects

Woman sipping from cup

Gargling with salt water does not actually help heal the throat like a medicine would, but it does provide temporary relief. If patients do not experience relief as a result of the salt water gargling, this may be a signal that the sore throat is occurring due to other causes, such as gastrointestinal reflux disease, in which gastric juices begin to creep up the esophagus.

Patients who do experience relief can gargle salt water as much as needed to get relief. For best results, Reader's Digest recommends gargling several times per day.

References

About the Author

Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.

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