Whenever my brother and I complained of a sore throat as kids, my mom (who is also a nurse) would invariably answer “Did you gargle with salt water?” Most of the time, the answer was “Ew, Mom! No!” But now that I’m an adult, I’ve come to appreciate my mom’s suggestion for what it was: a fast, easy, and effective remedy for soothing sore throats and easing congestion.
Why It Works
When you gargle, the salt draws fluid from inflamed throat tissue and provides immediate relief from sore throat symptoms. It also breaks up the irritating mucus, allergen or fungi which likely made your throat hurt in the first place. That same osmosis reaction also works on the soft tissues of your mouth to prevent the infection from returning.
The little bit of saline solution you swallow will help combat dehydration, while the leftover you spit out effectively rinses the cold virus from your mouth and throat. Brilliant, right?
It’s Also Great Preventative Medicine
Now that I’ve figured out how well gargling with salt water worked, I view it as a necessary evil whenever I have a head cold. But it turns out we should probably be doing it daily during cold and flu season as well.
A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Medicine recruited almost 400 volunteers to see whether salt water gargling could actually prevent the common cold. A test group did it daily for 60 days, and reported a 40 percent decrease in upper respiratory infections compared with a control group. That number is significant enough that I’ll be asking my family to please pass the salt during the winter months.
How To Do It
To gargle with salt water properly, you’ll need the right salt-to-water ratio. The Mayo Clinic recommends dissolving ½ tsp of salt into a full glass of warm water, gargling for a few seconds, then spitting it out.
I like to chase it with a spoonful of honey for even more throat-soothing action, and to help combat any lingering bacteria or viruses. I also never do this at the kitchen sink, as I’m concerned that the fluid I spit out could splash onto food prep surfaces and spread the cold to my family.
I also make sure I do it right before you go to bed to help promote a comfortable, restful night of sleep, and a few minutes after I wake up when post nasal drip is generally at its worst.