Things to think about to get the relief you need

A sore throat can be a real pain in the neck (pun intended). It can interfere with your ability to swallow comfortably, talk, even disrupt your sleep and your ability to concentrate.

Because most sore throats are caused by viruses, in many cases antibiotics won’t work. Managing the symptoms you experience is the recommended approach and there are a range of options available.

When looking for relief of a sore throat, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • How bad does it hurt? (e.g. is it just scratchy or more painful)?
  • Do you want to numb the pain, reduce the inflammation, soothe your throat or all three?
  • Would you rather swallow a pill or use something directly on your throat like a lozenge or spray or even a gargle?
  • How fast do you want relief?
  • How long do you need the relief to last?
  • What are the potential side effects and will it interfere with any other medications you take?

Managing a sore throat without medication

A simple thing you can do to make swallowing food and liquids easier when you have a sore throat is to adjust their temperature and texture.

  • Try frozen foods (like ice cream) for their temporary numbing effect on the throat.
  • Fluids warmed above room temperature (like soup) can also make it easier to swallow.
  • Choose softer foods and soothing foods that coat the throat (like honey or foods containing pectin or glycerin) rather than spicy or hard foods.

You might also consider changing your environment to minimise throat irritation. Even spending a few moments in the bathroom with a warm shower running several times a day may be of help – all that steamy goodness. Avoid exposure to smoke and other airborne irritants (including pollens and dust) that can make a sore throat worse.

Medications to help relieve a sore throat

When it comes to medications you can purchase in the pharmacy, there are two main approaches:

1. Tablets, capsules and liquids

When it comes to a sore throat, these medications mainly contain pain relievers (also called analgesics) like paracetamol, anti-inflammatories and aspirin. They are absorbed into your bloodstream before they can start working. This is why they can take a few hours to take full effect to relieve your throat pain, though they might work for a few hours at a time.

2. Lozenges, sprays or beverages that coat the throat

Lozenges are flavoured, medicated oral dose forms that you suck like a lolly, which then releases the medicine into your throat. As they slowly dissolve, they can continually release the active ingredients directly to the affected area. Plus, as they don’t have to be swallowed and absorbed through the blood stream to take effect they often start working quickly. Sprays are designed for you to deliver a soft mist that coats the back of your throat with medicine. They make it easier to apply medicine a little deeper down your throat. Some of the ways the medicines in sore throat lozenges and sprays work include:

  • Antibacterial action to help kill bacteria that can cause throat and mouth infections.
  • Anaesthetic to numb the pain of a sore throat.
  • Anti-inflammatory action to relieve inflammation, a known cause of sore throat pain.

Depending on how bad your throat hurts, you can find options that do one, two or all three of these things.

How to avoid getting a sore throat

If the cause of a sore throat is a common cold virus, maintaining appropriate hand hygiene and observing physical distancing are important to minimise the spread from person to person. Aside from preventing the spread of the viruses, supporting your immune system by maintaining a balanced diet that includes sources of zinc or by supplementing it with probiotics may also be helpful for preventing colds and the sore throat that comes with them. Your health professional will be able to give you more advice on this topic!

Manage that sore throat like a boss

A sore throat can mess with your ability to speak, swallow, sleep or even concentrate. Luckily relief is never far away, with medicated and non-medicated options you can try. Simple things like eating cold foods (ice cream for example) or drinking warm fluids (cup of tea anyone?) can make swallowing easier, while treating yourself to an at-home steam room by running a warm shower can help you feel better. If you need something stronger than ice cream consider the wide range of lozenges, throat sprays, mouth rinses and gargles available – try to find one that has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and/or anaesthetic actions to soothe the pain and discomfort of a sore throat. Better yet, look for the Difflam Plus range which includes all three!

Sore throats need to be taken seriously.

See your doctor if you or a family member experience any of the following:

• A sore throat lasting more than a few days

• Difficulty swallowing.

• Their tonsils are enlarged or have pus on them.

• A high temperature (above 39°C).

• Swelling in their neck.

• If their child is Maori or Pacific, aged 4 to 19 years and lives in certain parts of the North Island, they are at risk of a serious but preventable illness called rheumatic fever.

Frequently asked questions about relieving a sore throat


While a sore throat will usually go away on its own after a week or so (yay), you may find the dryness, scratchiness, irritation, swelling or pain distracting enough to seek some relief. If you’re looking to soothe a dry, scratchy throat you might look for lozenges that work with your saliva to coat the area. If your throat is more swollen or inflamed, you might consider a lozenge with anti-inflammatory action to help reduce the swelling and pain. If the area is difficult to reach with a lozenge, consider if a spray might be easier for you to use. If swallowing and talking is just downright painful, lozenges or sprays with anaesthetic relief can help relieve the pain.


Because a sore throat is a symptom of more serious conditions, check the New Zealand Government Department of Health website for advice on testing. While you self-isolate while waiting for your test result, a family member or friend may be able to purchase over-the-counter relief for your throat pain. You can even order online and have your products delivered by many pharmacy and grocery stores.


Lozenges mix with saliva and help to moisturise the mouth and throat as they are sucked. Medicated lozenges can also contain active ingredients such as antibacterial agents that help kill bacteria that cause mouth and throat infections, in order to try and prevent further infection. Some contain analgesics or anaesthetics to relieve pain or numb the area. There are also anti-inflammatory agents which help to relieve inflammation, which is a known cause of sore throat pain.


Sore throat sprays are an easy way to deliver medicine to the back of the throat. The spray can be applied right to the back of the throat to deliver the anti-inflammatory and/or antibacterial and anaesthetic ingredients right where pain and inflammation may be causing discomfort.