How to get rid of a sore throat

What Causes a Sore Throat?

A sore throat is a feeling of irritation in the back of the throat. It can vary from mild to severe, and may feel like:

  • Minor itching.
  • Rawness.
  • Rough, sandpaper-like scratching.
  • Sharp pains, like swallowing glass.

A sore throat can be caused by a multitude of things, from environmental irritants to viruses to pregnancy hormones.

Here are some of the most common causes of a sore throat during pregnancy:

  • Viruses: The vast majority of sore throats are caused by viruses, which are also the culprits responsible for the common cold and seasonal flu. Antibiotics are ineffective against viral infections, which usually just have to run their course over 5 to 7 days.
  • Bacteria: Bacterial infections can also cause a sore throat, and these can be treated with prescription antibiotics. Strep throat is one of the most common types of bacterial infections that is accompanied by a sore throat. One of the hallmarks of strep throat is a white coating or white spots on the back of the throat along with a high fever.
  • Environmental irritants: There are many things that can irritate your throat and nasal passages, causing discomfort. These include dry air, dust, pollen or other allergens, smoke, and chemicals.If your sore throat is caused by an environmental irritant, the best way to treat it is to avoid the source of your irritation. If your home is dry, try running a humidifier to moisten the air.
  • Postnasal drip: As your sinuses drain, the mucus drips down the back of your throat, which can be extremely irritating to it. This is often a secondary symptom after dealing with a bacterial or viral infection of the sinuses (source).
  • Pregnancy hormones: Thanks to fluctuating hormones, your body can experience a number of oral symptoms including dry mouth, excessive thirst, and sore throat. If this is the cause of your sore throat, there are few medical options available, and you can instead focus on measures to increase your comfort.
  • Acid Reflux: Acid reflux occurs when the contents of the stomach, including stomach acids, back up into the esophagus. Acid reflux causes a number of symptoms, one of the secondary symptoms being a sore throat. It is common during pregnancy, thanks to both a slower digestive process and a compressed digestive system (source).
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When Should I See a Doctor for My Sore Throat?

While a sore throat is not dangerous, there are some occasions when you should be sure to check in with your doctor.

  • Fever: You should contact your doctor if your sore throat is accompanied by a fever of 100 degrees or higher — especially if the fever sets in after you’ve already had a sore throat for a few days. A high temperature can indicate a condition that may need medical treatment, and a prolonged elevated temperature can be harmful to your baby (source).
  • Suspected flu: If your sore throat is accompanied by fever, chills, and a severe sense of malaise that came on rather quickly, it could be the flu. The flu presents a particular danger to pregnant women, but the good news is there are antiviral drugs available for some types of influenza.

    Tamiflu is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for use during pregnancy, but it is most effective if started within the first 48 hours of illness onset (source). So, if you suspect the flu, don’t wait — head to your doctor right away for testing.

  • Rash: If your sore throat is accompanied by a skin rash, contact your doctor. It could indicate a more serious illness that needs appropriate medical treatment.
  • Strep Throat: If your sore throat comes on suddenly and severely, you may have strep throat. Strep throat is frequently accompanied by white or red spots in the back of the throat, but a culture at your doctor’s office can confirm.

Strep throat is easily treated with antibiotics, and your doctor will likely give you a prescription if you’re diagnosed with it. The antibiotic is a good idea to help prevent some of the complications of strep throat that can crop up, such as kidney issues and rheumatic fever (source).

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What Types of Remedies Should I Avoid While Pregnant?

Several common remedies should be strictly avoided while pregnant, including:

  • Aspirin.
  • Ibuprofen.
  • Caffeinated teas.
  • Vitamin C supplements: Vitamin C supplements marketed to boost immunity (like the brand name “Emergen-C”) are typically safe for consumption, but too much Vitamin C has been linked to premature births (source). While it may be tempting to use these products to ward off a larger cold at the first sign of a sore throat, it’s best to check with your doctor first — especially since your prenatal vitamin should already contain Vitamin C.
  • Zinc lozenges: As is the case with Vitamin C, your prenatal vitamins give you all of the vitamins and minerals you need during pregnancy, so taking more can cause you to take too much. Check with your doctor about whether you can take zinc lozenges to stave off a cold — and if there’s any question, skip it.

Raw honey is often mentioned as being unsafe, however, new research is showing that there is actually no difference between using raw honey versus pasteurized honey in pregnancy as botulism cannot be passed to the baby in utero (source).

Headshot of Christine Traxler, Medical Doctor

Editor's Note:

Christine Traxler, MD, OB/GYN

What Medications Can I Take While Pregnant?

Some medicines are safe for use during pregnancy, as long as you follow proper dosing instructions (source). Always check with your doctor prior to taking medications to make sure they agree the medication you choose will complement your obstetric care:

  • Antibiotics: Since these must be prescribed by a doctor, your doctor will choose one that is safe for use during pregnancy.
  • Acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol): Use Tylenol sparingly. While it has been determined to be safe for pregnancy, overuse has been linked to liver damage (source).
  • Cough drops.
  • Throat sprays.
  • Robitussin expectorant or guaifenesin.
  • Antacids: If your sore throat is caused by acid reflux, antacids are safe to use. However, choose ones that contain calcium carbonate over sodium bicarbonate as they can cause water retention (source).
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The Bottom Line

A sore throat can be incredibly uncomfortable during pregnancy, but the good news is that it’s rarely serious. More often than not — as long as it’s not accompanied by fever — a sore throat is simply the result of a cold virus or environmental irritants.

You can safely treat a sore throat during pregnancy with the following:

  1. Check your temperature.
  2. Tylenol/acetaminophen.
  3. Gargle with salt water.
  4. Drink decaffeinated tea with lemon added.
  5. Use throat lozenges or sprays.
  6. Rest.

Comment below with the remedies you’ve found to be most effective at treating a sore throat. And please share this with a pregnant mama in your life who needs to know how to safely care for her sore throat.

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