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Feel Better When You Have A Sore Throat: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Marc Samsom

Hi! I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician. I’m here today to give you health tips on a painful ailment: sore throats.

Doctors call sore throats ‘pharyngitis.’ That’s because the back of the throat is called the pharynx, P-H-A-R-Y-N-X, and ‘itis’ means something is inflamed. So if you have pharyngitis, you have a throat that is sore and swollen and hurts.

Sore throats are caused by viruses or bacteria. They’re contagious and can make you pretty sick. If you get one, the first thing you need to do is tell your parents. They can decide if you need to go to the doctor.

If you have a high fever and lots of pain, and even white spots on your tonsils, you might have strep throat, an infection caused by bacteria. The doctor will give you antibiotics to kill the infection.

Most sore throats are not strep throat. Most are caused by a virus, and antibiotics won’t help.

Whichever kind of sore throat you have, my tips will help you nourish yourself and help your immune system fight the infection so you get better quickly.

One of the best things to do to soothe the pain of a sore throat is to gargle with salt water. Put ½ teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of warm water and stir it up really well so all the salt is dissolved. Then put some of the salt water in your mouth, tip your head back, and blow air out through your throat. The water will burble all around the back of your throat, and make it feel moist and less painful. Gargling is fun. You can do it lots of times a day if you want. But if you’ve never gargled before, do not try it unless your parents are there to help you.

Though I know this is probably boring, don’t forget to drink water. It helps your body push out an infection. It also helps keep your throat moist and will make you feel better.

Another good medicine for a sore throat is chicken broth. It has protein and minerals that are good for your immune system. Drink it from a mug. It’s warm and salty. It will perk you up and make your throat feel better.

Herbal tea is excellent for throat pain. Throat Coat tea has two of my favorites are licorice root and slippery elm. If you sweeten your tea with honey, if will feel extra good on your sore throat

Your parents can also buy throat lozenges for you, I like the ones made with honey and from the same herbs as the tea I recommended: licorice, slippery elm and Echinacea.

Finally, a different sort of thing you can do to help is hydrotherapy and throat massage. You’ll want your parents to help you with this because it’s a bit tricky to do by yourself. Soak a hand towel totally in hot water. Squeeze the extra water out and lay it on your throat and around your neck (make sure it’s not too hot so it doesn’t burn you!) and cover the hot, wet towel with a big dry towel. Leave the towels on for ten minutes, then take them off and rub your whole neck and throat with a moist, cool cloth for 30 seconds. Then gently massage your lymph nodes - those big lumps – under your jaw. Rub them in a soft circle, and then run your fingers down your neck to your collar bone. This helps move the germs out of your throat and eventually out of your body.

So to review: gargle with salt water, drink chicken broth and herb tea, suck on lozenges and try hydrotherapy and throat massage. Most importantly, tell your parents if you don’t feel well, and never take any medicine, even natural medicine, without getting permission from your parents first.

I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, and I’m wishing you well.

Credit Laurie Childs
Dr. Jamison Starbuck and Bunny

Jamison Starbuck, JD, ND, is a naturopathic family physician and the owner of One Doc Naturopathic Medicine, a family medicine clinic in Missoula, Montana.  Dr. Starbuck has been in private, primary care practice for over twenty-seven years.  She is a past president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

Dr. Starbuck did her undergraduate work at Middlebury College, in Middlebury, Vermont, majoring in history and art history.  She graduated from Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Oregon and from National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon.  Dr. Starbuck is a licensed naturopathic family physician and a licensed attorney member of the Montana State Bar.

Since 1995, Dr. Starbuck has written a monthly column for Bottom Line Health, a national newsletter/magazine. She is dedicated to the concept of physician as teacher and frequently offers public lectures and classes. Dr. Starbuck is a member of Missoula Kiwanis and serves on their Board as Treasurer.

In her spare time, Dr. Starbuck tends to her animals – a horse, dogs, chickens and a cat, her gardens and spends lots of time outdoors, celebrating life with nature in beautiful Montana.

Chérie Newman is an arts and humanities producer and on-air host for Montana Public Radio, and a freelance writer. Her weekly literary program, The Write Question, is broadcast on several public radio stations, and available online at and
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