Should You Avoid Milk When You Have a Cold and Sore Throat?

Some people believe you should avoid consuming milk and other dairy products when you have a cold or sore throat because they create mucus that can make symptoms worse. To date, the evidence supporting the claim is mixed, with some suggesting that milk has no effect and others inferring that it may in some cases.

This article explains why you get mucus with a cold or sore throat and what the current research says about the risk of drinking milk with an upper respiratory infection.

bowl of cereal with strawberries and almonds
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Is Milk Bad For a Sore Throat?

Drinking milk is thought by some to stimulate the production of mucus and make congestion worse in people with a cold or sore throat. The early evidence has not supported these claims.

One early study published in the American Review of Respiratory Diseases found no difference in the amount of nasal mucus produced in 30 people with colds who drank milk versus 30 volunteers with colds who did not drink milk.

A similar study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition evaluated the effect of drinking milk among people with asthma and found that the consumption of milk neither increased mucus production nor made symptoms worse.

Even so, many people who get colds or sore throats adamantly insist that cow's milk makes their symptoms worse, and scientists aren't certain why this is.

A 2019 study published in Laryngoscope decided to investigate the effect of milk outside of the context of colds to see if dairy had any general effect on mucus production. What the researchers found was that a dairy-free diet lasting four days did, in fact, reduce mucus secretions based on self-reports from the study participants. Not all participants experienced this, but many did.

It has been suggested that the effect is related to how some people respond to the breakdown of milk during digestion.

It is known, for example, that an amino acid called beta-casomorphin-7 is created from the breakdown of milk, which can stimulate mucus production in the intestines of some people. This is especially true in people with lactose intolerance.

It is hypothesized that these amino acids may circulate in the bloodstream and trigger the same effect in the upper respiratory tract.

If these findings hold true, milk doesn't so much "cause" mucus during a cold but instead triggers mucus production irrespective of illness in some people. Further research is needed.

What Is Mucus?

Mucus is a naturally occurring, sticky substance produced by mucosal membranes that line the cavities of internal organs as well as body openings such as the eyes, eyelids, ears, nostrils, mouth, lips, anus, and genital areas,

Mucus moistens, lubricates, and protects the passages of the digestive and respiratory tracts. It also provides a barrier against foreign particles that try to enter body openings, capturing them before they get inside the body.

Mucus can increase significantly during an upper respiratory tract infection (URT)). When you get a common cold or some other URTI the body will respond by triggering inflammation.

Inflammation is the body's natural response to infection during which blood vessels widen to allow immune cells closer access to the "frontlines" of the infection. The widening, in turn, releases fluid into surrounding tissues, causing them to swell.

When the nasal passages are affected, the swelling causes more nasal mucus (snot) to be produced, leading to nasal congestion, postnasal drip, a runny nose, and coughing.

Should You Avoid All Dairy With a Sore Throat?

There is no evidence that drinking milk will make a cold or sore throat worse.

With that said, if you have lactose intolerance but have not been diagnosed, it is possible to experience increased congestion if you consume milk or other dairy products during a cold or sore throat.

Symptoms of lactose intolerance include:

  • Abdominal cramping and pain
  • Gas and bloating
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Mucus in stool

If you have lactose intolerance, the avoidance of cow's milk is advised.

What Foods and Drinks Are Good for a Sore Throat?

A sore throat, referred to medically as pharyngitis, is best treated by eating soft foods that are easy to swallow and drinking soothing, non-acidic beverages that can help ease inflammation and pain.

These include:

  • Yogurt
  • Oatmeal
  • Clear soups and broths
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Eggs
  • Gelatin
  • Pudding
  • Tea with lemon and honey
  • Non-caffeinated sports drinks
  • Popsicles

Avoid hard, crunchy, spicy, or acidic food that can irritate the throat.

Cold and Sore Throat Treatment

The common cold is treated symptomatically, letting the infection run its course (usually seven to 10 days).

Treatment may involve:

  • Bed rest
  • Getting plenty of fluids
  • Antihistamines: Like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) to stop sneezing and runny nose
  • Cough suppressants: Like Robitussin (dextromethorphan) to reduce coughing
  • Decongestants: Like Sudafed PE (phenylephrine) to relieve stuffiness
  • Expectorants: Like Mucinex (guaifenesin) to loosen mucus
  • Pain relievers: Like Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen) for headache and fever
  • Using a cool-mist humidifier
  • Using a saline rinse: Including neti pot or a saline nasal spray

Sore throats may be caused by bacteria, viruses, or other germs. Depending on the cause, the treatment may involve:

  • Oral antibiotics: Typically penicillin or amoxicillin if the cause is bacterial
  • Pain relievers: Including Tylenol and NSAIDs
  • Numbing throat lozenges: Like Cepacol made with benzocaine and menthol
  • Gargling with salt water: 1/2 teaspoon salt with 1 cup of warm water several times daily
  • Sucking on a popsicle

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You need to see a healthcare provider immediately if a sore throat:

  • Is severe
  • Lasts for more than a week
  • Makes speaking difficult
  • Recurs frequently
  • Is accompanied by a high fever

When to Seek Emergency Care

Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room if a sore throat worsens and causes:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Vomiting
  • Blood in your saliva
  • Coughing up blood


Some people contend that drinking milk or consuming dairy products during a cold or sore throat can make symptoms worse by producing more mucus.

While there is currently no scientific evidence of this, it is possible that milk can increase respiratory mucus in some people, such as those with lactose intolerance.

9 Sources
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.
  1. Pinnock CB, Graham NM, Mylvaganam A, Douglas RM. Relationship between milk intake and mucus production in adult volunteers challenged with rhinovirus-2. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1990;141(2):352-6. doi:10.1164/ajrccm/141.2.352

  2. Wüthrich B, Schmid A, Walther B, Sieber R. Milk consumption does not lead to mucus production or occurrence of asthmaJ Am Coll Nutr. 2005;24(6 Suppl):547S - 555S. doi:10.1080/07315724.2005.10719503

  3. Frosh A, Cruz C, Wellsted D, Stephens J. Effect of a dairy diet on nasopharyngeal mucus secretion. Laryngoscope. 2019;129(1):13-17. doi:10.1002/lary.27287

  4. Bartley J, McGlashan SR. Does milk increase mucus production? Med Hypotheses. 2010;74(4):732-734. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2009.10.044

  5. Pal S, Woodford K, Kukuljan S, Ho S. Milk intolerance, beta-casein and lactose. Nutrients. 2015;7(9):7285–97. doi:10.3390/nu7095339

  6. National Institutes of Health. Lactose intolerance

  7. Sykes EA, Wu V, Beyea MM, Simpson MTW, Beyea JA. Pharyngitis: approach to diagnosis and treatmentCan Fam Physician. 2020;66(4):251-7

  8. DeGeorge KC, Ring DJ, Dalrymple SN. Treatment of the common coldAm Fam Physician. 2019;100(5):281-9.

  9. American College of Emergency Physicians. Sore throat.

By Kristina Duda, RN
Kristina Duda, BSN, RN, CPN, has been working in healthcare since 2002. She specializes in pediatrics and disease and infection prevention.