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Does gargling salt water really help a sore throat?

“Does gargling with salty water really do any good for a sore throat, and how? Can the salt, or effects of osmosis, damage healthy throat cells too…?”

Oh God that's a sexy face. by zpeckler, on FlickrThis is a great question. Let’s start at the beginning: why does your through hurt? Well, if you have a cold or the flu (a viral infection) it is probably because the tissues in your throat are swelling. As they swell, they push on pain-sensing nerves making these nerve fibres fire. You sense this as pain – and it sucks.

So is it possible to gargle a salty solution to ‘un-swell’ the swollen tissues in your throat? YES!

The high concentration of salt will draw fluid out of your tissues (called ‘osmosis’ – in an effort to restore normal ‘osmotic pressure’). This is the same process as salting meat to draw fluid out (or putting salt on a slug to fizzle the water out of it). Assuming the salt concentration in your gargling fluid is high enough, it really can relieve the soreness of your throat because your tissues calm down and stop pressing on the nerves. At least for a little while. It doesn’t “fix” or “cure” your sore throat – it just buys you a bit of time. Your immune system does the actual fixing part.

Well, that’s the theory. But even if you’re not convinced, then know that there is good evidence from scientific studies to show that gargling prevents throat infections (like this one published in 2005).

As far as damaging the cells in your throat goes, there’s no reason to think it would. Given that the research shows it helps, it seems unlikely that any damage is being done (it is just salty water, after all). But one thing I have learned as I go through life is that even with the most benign acts, someone somewhere has taken it too far and caused an injury. Don’t be that person. Gargle like a normal human a few times a day when you have a sore throat. Don’t drink the solution. And everything should work out just fine.

Answered by Matt Linsdell (Fitness Guru)

Question sent from Louise via Facebook

About The Author:


Matt is a certified personal trainer and has a degree in Environmental Science. He calls himself an evidence-based trainer, because training is a field which is littered with well-disguised pseudoscience – his emphasis is always on teaching the biology behind exercise. He lives at the edge of the beautiful and expansive Gatineau Park in Quebec and works across the water in Ottawa, Ontario. If he’s not out walking his two pit bulls, you’ll find him doing press ups with insanely large weights on his back. Follow Matt on Twitter at @smartfitmatt.

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