How lozenges work to ease sore throats
A sore throat can be a nuisance and sometimes surprisingly painful. When the discomfort gets too much, reach for a lozenge – a tried-and-tested remedy that soothes and restores.
Most of us are likely to suffer from a sore throat at least a couple of times during the course of our lives. Usually, there’s no real cause for concern. The soreness is just a hassle, making it difficult to swallow, talk and stay upbeat.
Before you head to the pharmacy for relief, it’s worth reading up on throat lozenges, how they work, which ingredients to look out for and when to steer clear of them. Use them correctly, and your throat problems may soon be a thing of the past.
Why do you have a sore throat?
A sore throat is most often a symptom of a mild cold, which is most likely caused by a viral infection. Approximately 10% of the time, however, bacterial infections like strep throat are to blame.
Pharyngitis (inflammation of the pharynx) may also be the reason why you’re struggling with a sore throat. This condition is characterised by redness, swelling and pain in the throat, which makes swallowing, and sometimes even talking, difficult.
How throat lozenges work
Most throat lozenges can be purchased over the counter (in other words, without a prescription), and work by dissolving in the mouth slowly as you suck them, lubricating the throat lining and easing irritation.
The suck action is necessary to activate the ingredients and to dissolve the lozenge. It also stimulates the salivary gland to produce saliva, which then mixes with the ingredients to coat the throat lining, reducing pain, dryness and itchiness of the throat. These lozenges typically contain local anaesthetics that help ease discomfort by numbing the throat.
Different brands of lozenges have different combinations of ingredients. Some of the most common ingredients include:
Antibacterials: Some of the most common antibacterial ingredients are cetylpyridinium chloride, amylmetacresol, dichlorobenzyl alcohol and hexylresorcinol. These all target the bacteria that might be causing your sore throat and/or throat infection. Cetylpyridinium chloride is a very mild antiseptic that also works by killing the bacteria that may be present in the throat.
Anaesthetics: Numbing agents found in the most effective throat lozenges help ease the pain and soreness associated with the sore throat. The most commonly used anaesthetics are lignocaine hydrochloride and benzocaine. Benzocaine causes numbness and relieves pain in the area where it’s applied.
Menthol and eucalyptus: These are natural ingredients are used in lozenges to cool and soothe the throat.
Pain ingredients. This includes benzydamine hydrochloride and flurbiprofen, both non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that work by reducing inflammation. You may need a prescription for lozenges that contain NSAIDs.
Tips for using lozenges
Lozenges that contain only natural ingredients can be used by most people, but those that contain painkillers and/or anaesthetics may come with some side effects. Chat to your pharmacist, read product packs carefully, and steer clear of these lozenges if you:
- Have asthma and/or allergies
- Are allergic to painkillers
- Are on heart-disease medication
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding (consult your doctor first)
A sore throat most often resolves by itself within three to four days. However, if it persists for more than a week or if your symptoms worsen to include severe difficulty swallowing or breathing, fever, and/or tender or swollen lymph glands in the neck, you need to see your doctor without delay.