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Gargling

A few years ago, I did a stint in General Practice. One of the commoner things people would come and see me for was a sore throat, and as a good antimicrobial steward I tended to send them away with self-care advice.

One bit of advice I routinely gave to adult patients was to gargle with salt water: dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in half a cup of boiled water mixed with half a cup of cold water, gargle with it for a minute and spit it out. I think it may even have been written on the little self-care leaflets I used to dish out.

This has a surprising amount of evidence behind it for a home remedy, though largely in the context of postoperative throat pain. It is now the published NHS advice for sore throats—it may have been at the time too, I’ve no idea.

What sticks in my mind about this advice is the number of people who mentioned at unrelated later appointments what excellent advice it had been. I even remember a singer telling me the advice had rescued a performance she thought she may have to cancel. In my experience, patients aren’t especially forthcoming with positive feedback on self-care strategies, but I really seemed to get a lot about this advice. Despite that, and despite a vague awareness of the evidence base, I didn’t really believe it. I mean, it sounds like utter nonsense, like the sort of folk remedies you hear for all kinds of things that aren’t evidence-based (and can even be downright unhelpful).

And yet… over the last week or so, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I’ve been suffering from a really sore throat. I tried gargling salt water. And, blow me down with a feather, it really works. Certainly, I’ve found it far more effective than any throat sweets or sprays I’ve come across.

I think there’s probably a deep message in here somewhere about common sense being remarkably uncommon, or about doctors being the worst patients, or about a disconnect between academic evidence and belief systems. But really, I’m just trying to say if you have a sore throat, try gargling with saltwater. It worked for me.


I came across the advert at the top of the post via the Boston Public Library online. I wonder if there are any medications advertised today as for both “man and beast”? If you’re wondering, you didn’t have to get your “beast” to gargle it:
it could also be applied topically (hence ‘liniment’, which is a word we don’t use nearly enough these days).

This 2,400th post was filed under: Health, Posts delayed by 12 months.

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