Updated on 04.18.07

Frugal Ways Of Dealing With A Sore Throat And Cold

Trent Hamm

For the last few days, I’ve been combating the worst sore throat I’ve ever had in my life. It’s been so bad that it’s also felt like an ear infection and it’s sapped a lot of my energy, leaving me barely feeling like writing, let alone dealing with a home purchase, work, house chores, and so on. I’m starting to get better, but I still feel rather tired. I’ve been lucky, though; it’s been so bad in my workplace that others have been out for a week or longer with the same exact bug.

For things like this, like a common cold or a sore throat, I generally avoid visiting a doctor and rely on home remedies to get me through. Given my recent adventures, I thought it might be of interest to provide a list of my repertoire of tricks for fighting off colds or sore throats.

Warm water and salt Take some warm tap water, mix in a spoonful of table salt, and stir. Then gargle. Then spit it out. I usually repeat several times. This doesn’t do much to relieve the discomfort immediately, but the warmth feels good on the cheeks and you’ll feel the benefit in an hour or two.

Teas You don’t need expensive ones. In fact, to be honest, I actually like Earl Grey out of cheap packets. I just let it steep for a long time and drink it straight. If you can’t stand that, don’t be afraid to add a bit of honey or sugar to the cup.

Humidity This often works hand in hand with tea, as you can just boil some water on the stove to make the air more humid. You can also run a humidifier if you have one. I usually just boil water for tea and let it boil heavily for a while before pouring it.

Chicken soup It’s so easy to make basic chicken soup if you already have chicken stock. Basically, just dump some chicken stock in a pot and boil some chicken breasts in it. The work involved for me is opening a jar, putting chicken breast meat in a pan, pouring the contents of the jar on top, and turning on a burner and letting it sit. The whole house smells like chicken soup and soon you have a delicious, warm meal that soothes the throat and soul.

Long, hot showers Usually when I’m sick, I can barely muster the energy to do anything at all, but when I make myself take a long, warm shower, I usually emerge feeling much better. The combination of the humidity and the cleanliness almost always gets me feeling better than I did before.

Sleep I drink a strong apertif (this part’s optional) and then force myself to sleep as much as possible. I often wake up feeling as though I’ve been beat up, but then I drink a cup of tea, eat some chicken soup, and take a shower and I feel much, much better.

If all else fails… I rely on two over the counter remedies.

Buckley’s Mixture is perhaps the most foul-tasting substance I’ve ever been exposed to, but if your head is clogged up, a single spoonful of it will immediately begin opening up your nasal passages. I’ve used this stuff time and time again to get my head unplugged during vicious sinus infections.

Fisherman’s Friend is almost as foul-tasting as Buckley’s Mixture, but it is by far the most effective cough drop there is for handling coughs and sore throats. Best of all, it only takes one to do the trick for quite a while, so you won’t gobble through them – I buy maybe one package for every five colds.

Hope these tips help you get through your next cold or sore throat without breaking the bank on prescriptions.

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  1. slc says:

    I can’t say for sure that it’s the reason my sickness lasted only 3 days when my friends took a week to recover — but I downed about 64oz a day of water mixed with cranberry juice (100% unsweetened cranberry juice — about 1 cup juice per 3 cups of water, add some sweetener or take it straight if you’re brave). It gets you hydrated (obviously important), and helps flush away the “bad” (at least I like to think it does)… and I think it tastes good.

    It’s definitely better than drinking soda or other forms of sugar water… and helps those who have trouble drinking “plain water” stay hydrated.

  2. Bruce says:

    I’ve also gargled cayenne, salt, and water. It’s effective, and burns less than you’d think. You do have to be careful not to use the mixture for too long, like any remedy, as suppressing the symptoms of infection for longer than a few days could mask something really serious.

  3. Eric B says:

    No cayenne pepper remedy?


    Gargle with cayenne pepper every 15 minutes until it’s gone.

  4. Lulu says:

    I am getting over the flu myself and I am using the warm water gargle for my sore throat. I have not seen Buckley’s since I moved to the US but I remember it being very foul tasting but you’re correct it works well.

  5. Chew some raw garlic! It has been touted to have antibacterial properties, and always seems to speed my recovery. And it’ll keep the vampires away.

    (the benefits come from a compound called allicin – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allicin)

  6. jake says:

    This happened to me during christmas holiday going all the way through New Years. The soar throat was so bad I could not swallow anything. Every time i swallowed tears came out of my eyes. I tried over the counter medicine and it did absolutely nothing. After two and a half weeks of sheer pain I went to the doctor and he prescribed anitbiotics. The soar throat went away in two days. After one day of antibiotics the pain had went from a 10 to a 4.

    I tried all these rememedies and then some trying to avoid having to go to the doctor. Nothing worked.

    My point is that all these remedies only work to some extent in my case I had to use antibiotics.

  7. Karen says:

    Try a modern chinese remedy: Slice up a whole Lemon, Squeeze and juice and chuck the rinds in a pot to boil with 500 ml of Coke, until the volume is reduced to 2/3.

    Works like a charm – the coke and sugar mask the lemon taste, while the acidic content makes it impossible for bateria to surivive, while the active anti-bacterial flavinoids in the lemon rind and essential oils are extracted by the boiling. It’s so effective that even my chinese physician friends prescribe it in favour to herbs.

  8. !wanda says:

    One general rule about over the counter products: if there are many, many products that claim to combat an ailment, it’s likely that none of them work.

    Also, most colds are caused by viruses, and antibiotics simply don’t work on those. However, lots of doctors will prescribe them to you without checking just in case it’s bacterial and to trigger a placebo effect. This practice is more expensive for you and contributes to antibiotic resistance, which is expensive for society.

    Sleep does wonders for your immune system, by the way.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Honey. Put some honey in your tea and it works wonders. A cab driver gave me this tip awhile back and it has saved me ever since.

  10. Lisa Knight says:

    I was turned on to the Buckley’s stuff when I was on jury duty, there were 10 of us (out of 15) that got sick over the course of our trial. That stuff was NASTY, but I had the shortest cold EVER!!!

  11. JMarshall says:

    I started taking Ester C 1000mg last September and haven’t been sick since. I just take on pill in the morning. They cost about 15.99 at GNC for 90 pills. Talk about saving some green on over the counter meds and doctor copays. Most people wait to get sick before something is done to get better. Why not start doing a little preventative maintenance.

  12. James says:

    !wanda: Some colds lead to sinus infections which DO tend to be bacterial…In fact, a lot of the “long lasting” colds are really sinus infections.

    Now, that’s not to say that I advocate taking antibacterials left and right because that’s gotten us into a whole world of trouble with drug resistant strains….

  13. Robert says:

    I second the cayenne pepper idea.

    I make some chicken noodle soup, and put cayenne pepper in it – as much as I can stand (alot). Eat the chicken and noodles and drink the broth. It burns going down, but feels really good at the same time.

  14. Elena says:

    I don’t drink tea but while currently fighting the worlds nastiest cold, I drink hot water with lemon and honey. Love it. Interested in that coke concoction though.

    btw, woke up this morning with my eyes all crusted over. Finally got me to the doctor, he said it’s mucus in my nasal cavity moving to my eyes. How gross is that?! This thing going around is extra nasty.

  15. Mardee says:

    My favorite remedy is Cold-eeze with zinc – it’s been proven to reduce cold symptoms and shorten the life of a cold by up to 3 days. I know that if I take it the first day I have symptoms, I never get a full-blown cold the way I used to.

  16. ~M says:

    This is a good chicken soup that is easy to make and contains ancho chile pepper puree, which feels very soothing to a sore throat. http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/soup-stew/chicken_mexican.html

  17. will says:

    This may or may not apply, but discovering this cheap, at-home remedy changed my life:

    Snorting salt into the nasal passages.

    Products are marketed for this (google, “neti pot”), but really, all you need is sea salt or a saline solution. Sinus infection is one of the most common ailments people get, and a chief cause of expensive doctor’s appointments. Furthermore, mucous from the sinuses can drip down into the throat and lungs, causing sore throat and even bronchitis or other lung infections.

    What you do is mix a salt-heavy glass of lukewarm water, and then snort it up one nostril at a time. When it contacts the sinus in the upper nose, it will trigger your sinuses to expel mucous and bacteria. This promotes overall healthy sinuses and can stave off a sinus infection before it gets too bad.

    I know people who do this nightly for overall sinus health and swear by it, and have used it personally with great success.

  18. Wendy says:

    My mother is allergic to pseudoephedrine and, because of her allergy, we used lots of non-OTC ways to handle being sick. The hot shower still works best for me (although I was glad to find out that I’m not allergic to pseudoephedrine, which helps when I MUST get through something in spite of feeling like I’m going to die). If you don’t want to get wet, consider just closing the bathroom door and turning the shower on – instant sauna! It also helps when I’m achy. You could also boil water on the stove and inhale the steam. Mom was fond of dipping a cloth in hot water and breathing through it, but my nose is usually raw by that point and the direct heat can be uncomfortable.

    Fever can be helped with acetomeniphine (Tylenol) and application of something cold to feverish areas. My legs always feel like they’re burning, so I sometimes dip them into some cool running water or use a cool cloth to rub them down periodically. It usually cools me down enough to sleep. In fact, sleep as much as possible and REST! I have a way of catching anything, so when people come to classes sick, I tend to get sick. Stay home and sleep if at all possible; if not to feel better, then to help prevent others from getting sick.

    However, if you have signs of a bacterial infection and they persist, see your doctor. My Mom ignored a real sinus infection for too long and developed pneumonia as a result. She was on stronger (and more expensive) antibiotics for over a month and had to miss a week and a half of work.

  19. vern says:


    When you feel a sore throat coming on, (that little tingling at the back of your throat) take a shot of whiskey. (Any hard spirit will do) Gargle a little and then swallow so that the liquid hits the sore spot. If you did it right you should feel it burn a bit.

    This has always worked for me.

    As the Finns say…”If the sauna, tar, or vodka won’t cure you, death is sure to follow.”

  20. mary says:

    If you have an extremely sore throat, it may be strep throat which is a bacterial infection that requires an antibiotic. Untreated strep infections can cause a worse infection. It is better to get your throat cultured to rule out strep before you self-medicate.

  21. Karen says:

    Just had a cold,sore throat,laryngitis begin as I was ready to take a trip. I took 1 Vit. C 1000, 2 Swanson’s Echinacea/Elderberry/Golden Seal,1 zinc,1 olive leaf extract and 3 Antronex (from my chiropractor)–did this 2 or 3 times a day, after taking a soda bath the first night of symptoms. Didn’t get really “down” like I often do, and the trip went okay. (Prayed too!)

  22. FunFrugalMom says:

    All these remedies are good but if you have a sore throat that is so painful you can’t swallow food then you need to see a doctor.

    I’m just getting over a very bad case of Strep Throat. Very contagious and painful. I needed antibiotics to start to get over it. Please keep in mind that untreated strep can become rheumatic fever which can be life threatening.

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