As home remedies go, this might be the most widely known/practiced/recommended. But why does gargling with warm, salty water help soothe a sore throat? Since I’m doing this multiple times a day–and since I feel like it helps–I decided to Google the gargle and attempt a better explanation than “because it does.”
First of all, gargling of any kind is helpful when you have a throat infection because it flushes the area and can encourage any lingering bits of phlegm to ride the wave and leave the premises. For those who still have your tonsils (or who, like me, have big ones), flushing the throat with fluid helps loosen anything that gets stuck in there as well. Alternatives to salt water gargling: cider vinegar, lemon juice, natural mint or cinnamon mouthwash, or just plain warm water.
- Salt sucks. This is a phrase that I learned in 12th grade biology class, and I’ve come back to it again and again. Salt draws moisture and promotes osmosis. This is why salting eggplant or tomatoes makes them give up their liquid so they’re easier to cook with. In your throat, salt water “sucks” in two ways: it draws moisture out of any bacteria who have set up shop there, and it draws moisture out of your own swollen tissues, relieving inflammation.
- Salt cleanses. Not only does salt water flush out post-nasal drip and other bacterial material (just like any fluid would), a salty environment prevents bacteria from growing. Just ask any medieval meat-eater how they kept their meat from going rancid, and you’ll recall that salt is a bacteria-fighter.
Fair warning, though – you can have too much of a good thing when it comes to salt water gargling. First, do not swallow the salt – your body does not need the extra sodium, it needs to be well-hydrated in order to fight your infection. Second, if the concentration of salt in your gargle is too high, it will dry out your throat membranes, causing them to inflame further.
A good rule of thumb is to use only enough salt so that the water tastes just salty, not WHOA, SALTY! I usually do 3 10-second gargles in a row, 3-4 times a day when I have a cold. And for whatever reason, I usually feel better afterward.
Do you gargle? Does it help?