By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.
Scratchy throat? Dry throat? Painful Swallowing? A sore throat is often the first sign of a cold, but it can be hard to tell if a swollen throat is caused by a throat infection, a virus, bacterial infections like strep throat, allergies, or something else. Acupuncture and TCM Chinese herbs can provide excellent sore throat remedies to bring quick pain relief.
Throat pain, throat irritation, or trouble swallowing due to soreness is known as “pharyngitis.” The most common sore throat causes are viral infections, or cold and flu. This type of sore throat will usually go away once the infection runs its course.
The bacterial infection known commonly as “strep throat,” caused by streptococcus bacteria (throat strep), is another common cause of sore throat, usually accompanied by fever, swollen tonsils and lymph nodes, and red spots in the mouth.
But there are many possible causes of a sore throat, including:
- Common Cold – along with a runny nose, sneezing, and cough, a sore throat is one of the common cold symptoms.
- Flu – a sore throat with fever and chills or body aches may be a sign of flu.
- COVID-19 virus – many people are experiencing a sore throat as one of the early symptoms of the latest variant. This scratchy throat can last a long time.
- Mononucleosis – the Epstein Barr virus, also known as “mono,” can cause a sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, and sometimes a skin rash.
- Chickenpox or measles – these illnesses often start off with a mild fever and sore throat; then, the rash or skin sores appear a few days later.
- Allergies – an allergy to pollen or other particles in the air may cause dryness in the throat. Postnasal drip can also create more irritation from constant throat-clearing.
- Dryness – when the weather is very dry—as it is here in California, sometimes—a stuffy nose during the night can lead to sleeping with your mouth open. Breathing dry air through your mouth can cause you to wake up with a sore, scratchy throat.
- Vocal strain – shouting and screaming at a concert, or overusing your voice with talking or singing can lead to throat pain and the need for vocal rest.
- GERD – Acid reflux can damage the tissues of the throat, causing difficulty swallowing, a hoarse-sounding voice, and chronic pharyngitis.
- Sleep Apnea – snoring can cause a dry mouth and sore throat.
Sore Throat Treatment
A doctor will typically perform a swab test or throat culture to check if a person has strep throat or a staph infection. If so, antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat the bacterial infection. But antibiotics will not help a sore throat that is due to a viral infection. Most people will take pain relievers or sore throat medicine to help relieve throat pain, or suck on throat lozenges.
People who suffer from burning chest pain and sore throat from GERD will often use over-the-counter antacid tablets to help with scratchy throat.
Most people just wait out a sore throat, hoping it will get better within a few days and not turn into chronic pharyngitis. Acupuncture and other TCM treatments can help reduce the time it takes to get over a sore throat and related illness.
Can Acupuncture Help a Sore Throat?
TCM methods have been used to treat upper respiratory infections, or the common cold, for thousands of years. According to TCM theory, “heat” is a pathogenic force that encompasses conditions of too much heat and dryness in the body. This excess heat can come from both external factors and internal factors. There may be a yin deficiency, meaning that there is not enough yin energy to cool down the body.
People are more prone to developing heat imbalances during the winter months because they tend to spend more time indoors with the heat on, eat more warm foods, and get less exercise. Too much heat builds up in the body, and this leads to inflammation, dryness, and sometimes itchy skin and rashes.
Acupuncture treatment can help reduce inflammation and provide analgesic pain relief of a sore throat. One study showed that people treated with auricular acupuncture for sore throat reported less pain, both 15 minutes after treatment, and six hours later. Acupuncture can also work to help clear heat from the organ systems of the body, clear phlegm from the lungs and upper respiratory tract, and to strengthen the Wei Qi, or defensive Qi.
Chinese herbs will also be instrumental in helping to clear up a sore throat. There are many varieties of herbal formulae that work in different synergistic ways to alleviate a sore throat, depending on the other related symptoms and whether or not there is some type of infection present. An acupuncture practitioner will be able to customize a formula for each individual patient, but there are many tried-and-true Chinese herb preparations that work well for colds and sore throats in many cases.
Yin-Qiao, an herbal formulation composed of several Chinese herbs, is a very popular remedy for the common cold and works very well to shorten the duration of a cold, especially if taken right at the first sign of a sore throat. Yin-Qiao has been shown to work on many levels, as an antiviral, anti-bacterial, and an anti-inflammatory, as well as helping to strengthen immunity.
A sore throat is a sign that you should rest your voice, get extra sleep, and consume plenty of liquids. We recommend sipping on warm water, on its own or with lemon or ginger, or an herbal tea such as mint. Eat more cooling foods, such as: apples, pears, especially Asian pears, radishes, cucumbers. These will help dispel heat.
Acupuncture for Sore Throat Near Me in West Los Angeles
While often a sore throat is simply a symptom of a mild cold, it is also a clear signal that there is some kind of infection or other imbalance present. It is wise to pay attention and do everything you can to boost your immune system as soon as you notice that scratchy throat sensation. An acupuncture treatment and herbs can go a long way towards helping make sure that a sore throat doesn’t turn into something more serious.
*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.