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Can Gargling Salt Water Cure a Sore Throat?

September 22, 2019


[♪ INTRO] While it might give you that podcast-ready,
baritone voice, a sore throat is no fun at all. And if you’re looking for a quick fix, you might have
already heard that you can gargle salt water. It turns out there is some evidence to back
up the old remedy, but it’s not a cure. Sore throats can come from all sorts of ailments,
including viral and bacterial infections. And while the precise causes vary, for the
most part, when your throat hurts, it’s because of inflammation: all the fun stuff
like swelling, pain, and redness that happen when your immune system is activated in a
particular part of your body. Gargling with warm saltwater is one of those
remedies that’s so commonly known and loved by doctors that there actually isn’t all
that much science done on it. But it’s not considered harmful, and there are a couple of reasons why
it might make you feel a little bit better. It probably reduces swelling, for example. Swelling is simply the accumulation of fluid
during inflammation, which can cause soreness from all the extra pressure, or from your
cells uncomfortably rubbing up against each other. And it’s well established that saltwater
can bring fluid out of your cells through a process known as osmosis. See, when you put solutions with few dissolved
particles in contact with solution with lots of them, water wants to move
to balance the concentrations out. And the salty water you gargle with, usually
a half a teaspoon of salt per cup of water, is saltier than the fluids in the tissue of
your inflamed throat. So, it’s believed that it draws
some of the water out, thereby relieving some of the
soreness associated with swelling, and maybe even flushes out some of the
viruses or bacteria causing you harm. The warmth of it may also come into play,
as lots of studies have found that heat relieves pain, though it’s not entirely clear why
that is. And there may be even more to it. A study in 2016 showed that a salt water rinse
could also increase certain proteins that help heal inflamed tissue. But, this experiment was done in human cells
in Petri dishes, not in people. In the end, we need more robust research to
really determine exactly what warm saline water does to relieve a sore throat. But one thing seems clear: it doesn’t actually
get rid of any underlying cause. So you might want to take that gargling advice
with a grain of salt. Thanks for asking, Kendra! And thanks to all of our patrons who voted
for this question in our poll. If you want to pose questions like this that
we might answer with an episode, or just help support what we do here at SciShow, you can learn more about becoming
a patron at Patreon.com/SciShow [♪ OUTRO]

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