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Understanding and Treating Sore Throats

Dear Dr. Klaper:

I have recently become a lacto-vegetarian, and I keep experiencing one sore throat episode after another. Do you have any ideas as to why this may be happening and perhaps some suggestions for the best way to treat a full-blown sore throat when it does occur? – D.T.

*Learn more about sore throats by renting or buying the 35-minute video  “Banishing Bronchitis and Soothing Sore Throats Without Antibiotics” by Dr. Michael Klaper

UPDATED: January 4, 2018

Dear D.T.,


Recurring sore throats in a dairy-consuming vegetarian raise several possibilities. The membranes lining the throat are well endowed with mucus-secreting glands. Smearing dairy proteins, such as casein and lactalbumin, on these sensitive throat membranes several times per day (in milk, yogurt, ice cream, cheese, etc.) may cause irritating mucus to drip down the back of the throat, causing inflammation. (The medical term for inflammation of the throat – the pharynx – is pharyngitis.)


Dairy proteins are not the only possible inflammation-inciting culprit in foods – other proteins from soy, peanut, or wheat (or for that matter, most any other plant or animal protein in a given individual person) may incite a mucus drip – and resulting irritated sore throat membranes. If such a food-based irritant is suspected, eliminate that food for several weeks and see if the symptoms clear. Then, reinstitute the food and see if the symptoms recur. If so, plan to avoid that food, long term.


Another cause of frequent sore throat episodes is a chronic bacterial infection of the paranasal sinuses (spaces in the skull bones which make our voice more resonant and which connect into the nasal cavity). Whether a case of acute or chronic infectious sinusitis is discharging bacteria-laden secretions down the back of the throat is a question to be answered with the help of your physician. Appropriate diagnostic tests (physical examination, scans, etc.) may need to be arranged to confirm or rule out this diagnosis. Other serious causes of sore throats (tumors, etc.) can also be investigated at that time.

More commonly, your frequent sore throats are most likely a sign that the resistance of your throat tissues, as well as your general body immunity, has temporarily decreased – largely as a result of how you have been operating your body. Popular immune-depressing forces include late night activities resulting in sleep deprivation, hours spent in cigarette smoke-filled rooms, alcohol ingestion, prolonged exposure to air conditioning, an imbalanced diet (top-heavy with refined sugars, processed, salty, and excessively spicy foods, deficient in immune-enhancing fruits and vegetables), emotional stress, etc.

Such common immune-crippling factors of 21st century life may allow microbes that normally live in your throat – but which are usually prevented from causing infection due to your normally-healthy immune system – to take advantage of your now weakened defenses. Thus, while unwise choices and actions can open the door to frequent sore throats, health-enhancing lifestyle choices more in harmony with our body can fortify us against them.

Once the sore throat is in full force, you can help your body overcome the problem by correcting the imbalances that fostered the sore throat, as well as improving the local conditions in the throat tissues. Start by enhancing your immune status through:

  • getting enough sleep,

  • drinking enough (pure, room temperature) water, and

  • eliminating immune-damaging influences (e.g., smoking cigarettes, eating refined sugar, etc.).

Important: Most sore throats are caused by viruses and do NOT respond to antibiotics. However, if your throat is very inflamed when you look in the mirror (red, swollen tissues, possibly with white spots on the tonsils), and if you feel systemically ill (chills, fever, muscle aches, etc.), you should see your doctor to determine whether your throat infection is caused by streptococcus bacteria. If any lab test your doctor performs confirms that you have a true “strep throat” (streptococcal pharyngitis) respect this microbe – it can cause serious damage to your heart valves (rheumatic fever).

If your physician prescribes antibiotics to eradicate streptococcus bacteria and help eliminate your chances for rheumatic fever complications, follow your physician’s advice and take the full course of the antibiotics that were prescribed. At the conclusion of the course of antibiotics, restore the intestine’s healthy microbial balance by consuming non-dairy, mixed-strain probiotic before each meal for 2 to 6 weeks.

Whether the sore throat is caused by a virus or a bacteria, you can do much to reduce the inflammation of the throat tissue and to help speed the healing by taking advantage of an old fashioned remedy: GARGLING with a gentle salt-water solution. It really works! Why?

Gargling 3 to 4 times a day with warm salt water will:

     a) wash the throat membranes free of the overlaying mucus layer which contains inflammation-inciting proteins, microbes (including strep bacteria), etc.

as well as

     b) dilate the blood vessels in the throat membranes and bring the white blood cells, natural antibodies, any antibiotics that are used, etc., to the throat area.

Gargling as described below, 3 to 4 times per day, usually results in a much more comfortable throat the following day.

To prepare an appropriate solution for safe gargling, take a glass of warm water (only slightly warmer than room temperature) and add just a pinch of salt – just enough to make it taste slightly salty. Do NOT put a teaspoon of salt in a cup of water; if you do, you will make a salt solution that is too-concentrated (hypertonic) and “pickle” your throat membranes, osmotically injuring the very membranes you are trying to heal. When it comes to making a gargling solution, more salt is NOT better! Use less than an 1/8th of a teaspoon – a large pinch – in a cup of warm water.

A solution of healing herbs may also be used to gargle. Steep 1/3 teaspoon of goldenseal powder in 1 cup of hot water, let cool, then strain, and gargle, as described below. (A quart of goldenseal solution can be made at one time and stored in the refrigerator between uses; use 1 teaspoon of goldenseal powder per quart.) 

Avoid gargling with hydrogen peroxide and/or tea tree oil, as these potent substances can actually injure the hypersensitive throat membranes.

To gargle:

  1. Over a sink (or outside), hold the glass of warm, diluted salt water in your hand.

  2. Open your mouth.

  3. Take in a deep breath and close the back of your throat.

  4. Tilt your head back and slide a mouthful of salt water to the back of your throat.

  5. With your mouth still open, gently breathe out through the water. This is when the gargling happens – the water splashes and plays on the throat membranes, cleaning them, washing away mucus and microbes and dilating the blood vessels to bring in healing white blood cells and antibodies.

  6. At the end of the exhaled breath, expectorate (spit out) the water into the sink (or on the ground, if outside).

Repeat until a full glass of salt water is used. Repeat for a total of 3 – 4 gargling sessions during the day.

Finally, remember that your throat membranes are inflamed. To avoid retarding their healing, DO NOT DO ANYTHING TO INFLAME THEM FURTHER!

  1. Do not burn your already-irritated throat membranes with HOT LIQUIDS! Until your throat pain subsides, avoid hot soups, coffee, tea, etc.

  2. Do not burn your inflamed throat membranes with ACID LIQUIDS! Avoid orange juice (yes, orange juice!), citrus, pineapple, cola drinks, or any liquid that is acidic in nature, until your throat is pain-free.

  3. Do not injure your throat membranes MECHANICALLY! Avoid scratchy foods such as potato chips, celery stalks, etc., until your throat is pain-free.

When your throat is very sore, it is not important to eat solid foods at all. Just keep up with your fluid losses by drinking at least two quarts of water daily. 

Once you feel comfortable swallowing, soft, room temperature, non-acidic foods (peaches, carrot juice, non-citrus fruit smoothies, etc.) will aid healing. 

At that time, a daily, taking a high-potency multivitamin tablet can help restore your body’s metabolic balance. Take the multivitamin daily for 2 weeks, then once per week after that. (I am not a fan of most daily multivitamins.) If you take vitamin C tablets, do not use a chewable form because that can make the throat more irritated and damage teeth.

If your physician suggests any anti-inflammatory tablets or injections, it is because these agents have been shown to markedly decrease the duration and intensity of the discomfort in your throat. Consider taking your M.D. up on her/his offer.

With very sore throats, gargling with viscous Xylocaine before eating can make mealtimes less agonizing until your throat pain begins to fade. Ask your physician about this.

It helps to know that most sore throats subside almost completely within 24 to 72 hours of initiation of treatment. If you are not experiencing such resolution of your sore throat in that time, check back with your physician. Although presented as a painful problem, listening to (and acting upon) the messages being sent to you by your sore throat can benefit your overall health.

To your good health and happiness,

Dr. Michael Klaper

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