Hot vs. Cold for Sore Throat: Which Is Better?

In many cases, home remedies for sore throat can be helpful. You can soothe sore throat pain with hot or cold treatments. There are various ways to do each.

A sore throat can make it hard to talk, swallow, drink, or eat. Sore throats are a common reason for people to see their primary care provider. They make up about 10% of primary care visits. In the United States, the common cold, a frequent cause of sore throats, is believed to account for 110 million healthcare provider visits every year.

There are many causes of a sore throat, including strep throat (a specific kind of bacterial infection). If you have a certain kind of infection, you may need medications from your healthcare provider in order to get better. But, most viral illnesses that cause your throat to be sore won't need any medications (like antibiotics) to get better.

This article discusses both hot and cold treatments for sore throat. Learn about the pros and cons of choosing hot or cold remedies for your sore throat.

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Sore Throat and the Immune System

A sore throat is often a symptom of an infection. When a bacterium or virus enters your body, your immune system fights against the germs causing your throat to become inflamed, swollen, or irritated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), common causes of a sore throat include:

Most of the time, a sore throat is caused by a viral illness and will not need specific medication. However, your healthcare provider may recommend testing for your sore throat to rule out strep or another bacterial infection.

A sore throat will usually get better in about a week, especially if it is caused by a virus. In the meantime, you can take measures to soothe your sore throat and make yourself more comfortable.

What Helps a Sore Throat Better, Cold or Heat?

Some of the most common recommendations for a sore throat are to drink plenty of fluids and increase the humidity in the air. Both of these help the mucous membranes of your throat stay moist—which can reduce feelings of soreness.

If your sore throat makes it hard to swallow, you may consider trying either hot or cold as a way to soothe the soreness and reduce your symptoms. There are pros and cons for each.

Cold: Pros

In general, cold therapy helps blood vessels to narrow (called vasoconstriction). It can also reduce pain by numbing sore areas. Overall, cold drinks can benefit a sore throat by:

  • Decreasing pain
  • Decreasing inflammation
  • Decreasing swelling

For some people, cold beverages are perceived as pleasurable. It is easy to apply cold internally—you can add ice to a favorite beverage or freeze juice into an ice pop.

Cold: Cons

There are no reliable published research papers about the dangers of using cold to treat a sore throat. However, there are some reasons to be cautious or avoid choosing cold.

Cold tends to decrease blood flow to areas where ice or cold has been applied. Keeping body tissues cold for a long period of time can slow healing and increase the time needed for recovery. Overall, this problem would not normally be expected with cold drinks, but more research is needed to determine how cold drinks affect sore throats.

Heat: Pros

Warm or hot treatments can help blood vessels to open up (called vasodilation). This can benefit a sore throat by:

  • Decreasing pain
  • Improving circulation to the area
  • Helping to relax muscles

Most of the time, a gentle warmth is an optimal temperature for heat therapy. Like cold treatments, heat is easy to use.

Some research has inferred that the heat in warm beverages may kill bacteria, easing a sore throat. However, this has not been proven. A 2017 review study showed that breathing in warm steam has no benefits or harm; however, the data reviewed was not of high quality, and further studies are needed.

Heat: Cons

As with cold drinks, warm drinks have not been well studied in treating sore throats.

When choosing a warm treatment for your sore throat, be sure the temperature is not too hot. Avoid burning your lips, tongue, and the sensitive tissue in your throat. In fact, scald injuries (being burned with hot liquid) have been documented during attempts to breathe in steam.

Cold Remedies

Any cool or cold food or beverage can help relieve a sore throat. Many people find cool foods and drinks to be soothing and pleasurable. You can try experimenting with different flavors and temperatures to determine the most helpful. You may want to try:

  • Ice water
  • Ice chips
  • Popsicles
  • Ice cream
  • Chilled pudding

Cool mist humidifiers are another option for applying cool, moist air to the throat.

Hot Remedies

Moist heat for a sore throat can be applied by the following:

While some people advocate for certain kinds of tea like elderberry, ginseng, or green tea, there is currently no reliable evidence to scientifically show these are helpful. Talk to a healthcare provider about options that might work for you.


If you have open sores in your mouth or throat, be sure to check with your healthcare team prior to using any hot or cold treatments for a sore throat. Mouth sores, or mucositis, can be a common side effect of cancer treatments and may require special care.

Things to Avoid With a Sore Throat 

Throat pain can have many different causes and treatments. If either hot or cold makes your sore throat feel worse, stop using it right away. Follow up with a healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.

Generally, fluids and humidity help moisturize a sore throat and soothe the dry, painful feeling. Avoid beverages with caffeine, like certain teas and coffee. Also, avoid drinking alcohol while you have a sore throat. Both of these substances can cause your body to become dehydrated.

You may also want to avoid acidic beverages like citrus juice or tomato juice. These can be harsh and hurt or sting an already irritated throat.

Avoid things that make your sore throat worse. For example, rough or scratchy foods may further irritate an already sore throat. Air that is dry or polluted may also make your sore throat worse and should be avoided. Avoid smoking or quit smoking altogether.

Antibiotics for Sore Throat

Unless your healthcare provider has diagnosed you with a bacterial infection, antibiotics are not recommended and may even have some harmful side effects.


Hot and cold drinks, food, and vaporizers can be comforting when you have a sore throat. No scientific evidence exists that shows better results from a certain temperature.

It is good to keep your sore throat moist, so drinking nonalcoholic beverages may be helpful. Check with your healthcare team If you have other medical conditions or a healthcare provider has recommended you limit your fluid intake.

A sore throat may be the first sign that you are getting sick. Many times, sore throats are caused by a viral infection and get better without specific treatment in a few days.

However, sometimes a sore throat is a sign of something more serious and may need medications or treatment to prevent additional medical problems. Be sure to see a healthcare provider right away if you have concerns or your symptoms get worse.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which sore throat remedies work the fastest?

    Most of the time, treatments for a sore throat focus on managing the symptom and relieving the pain. Over-the-counter medications may help if your healthcare provider has approved them for you. Warm or cool drinks may also soothe a sore throat.

  • Is sugar bad for immune health?

    Studies show that the right amount of blood glucose (sugar) is important for many kinds of body processes. Human bodies need some sugar to work correctly, but too much might weaken the immune system. Be mindful of the sugar content when consuming popsicles or fruit juices to soothe your throat.

  • What helps a sore throat during sleep?

    You may notice that your sore throat is worse when you first wake up in the morning. This is because your mouth and throat tend to dry out as you sleep. Some people find that a vaporizer or a cool-mist humidifier helps reduce how dry and sore your throat becomes overnight.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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