A friend called me recently, wondering what would suggest for a sore throat and congestion. It was the middle of the night, so she was limited to what could be purchased over the counter, or what she already had on hand. When it comes to being sick, I try to start with the gentlest approach, and then go from there. I usually start with food and essential oils. At some point, it makes sense to use the drugs available to us, especially if doing so prevents a doctor’s visit, a more serious prescription, a hospital stay or worse. So, from mildest to strongest, here are our favorite remedies for sore throat, cough, and congestion.
Honey: To sooth a sore throat or reduce coughing, a cup of hot water with a tablespoon of honey and lemon juice can be beneficial. If you have apple cider vinegar on hand, I like to add a tablespoon of it as well. Honey has been a traditional folk remedy for coughing, and recent studies have shown it to be as effective or more effective than traditional cough medicines (1,2,3).
Essential oils: To really break up congestion, I get out my essential oils. There are many that are effective, but eucalyptus tops the list. If you don’t have eucalyptus, try lavender, peppermint, or cedarwood. These first three oils are part of my Top 10 essential oils to always keep on hand. Eucalyptus is an expectorant, meaning it helps break up mucous so that coughs are productive. It is also antibacterial & antiseptic, and soothing for lungs and sinuses. Some researchers think it may be anti-inflammatory.
Remember, these are extremely concentrated, so always dilute well when applying to skin. For children, I recommend applying to the feet instead of elsewhere on the body whenever possible. For congestion and sore throat, apply the oil to the ball of the feet, the big toe, and the “neck” of the big toe, and you will cover all the reflex points for breathing and sinuses. Besides being safer, applying to the feet is also very effective. My youngest responds more quickly to oils on the feet than she does to an oral dose of traditional medication. I also like to diffuse a blend containing eucalyptus whenever we are stuffy to help keep us breathing (4). Diffusing or applying an immune blend with oregano or thyme is also a good idea whenever you are sick. Oregano is also in my Top 10 must have oils because of its antibacterial effectiveness.
Cough drops: We like Luden’s cherry or Ricola if we just need mild soothing, but when we get really gunky I reach for Fisherman’s Friend cough drops. These contain menthol, claim to have been made for more than 100 years, look like that claim is true, and they work. They are great at bedtime when you need to break up congestion to breathe and need to stop coughing in order to fall asleep.
Listerine: If your throat is killing you, and nothing else has worked, try gargling with Listerine several times a day. It has menthol, thymol, methyl salicate, and eucalyptol in it, man-made derivatives of the active ingredients in peppermint, thyme, wintergreen, and eucalyptus oils. Methyl salicate is related to aspirin, so it has pain relieving properties and may be anti-inflammatory.
Over-the-counter Medicines: If all else fails, before heading to the doctor, we will try Mucinex D, Sudafed, or lemon-flavored Theraflu drinks. If nothing else has worked, and an ear or sinus infection is imminent, these are the toughest things we have tried that don’t require a prescription. The first two do, however, require a pharmacist to get them for you, so they won’t be available on those midnight trips to the store.
Sleep: This should really be #1 on the list, but often we put it last. I believe that when you take care of yourself, your body can heal itself, but most of this healing is done when you are at rest, so if you don’t rest, you really limit your ability to heal. If you have tried everything and you aren’t getting worse, but you aren’t getting any better either, try getting some sleep! Your body will thank you!
All sources accessed 12/11/15