Before you use an over-the-counter throat lozenge, think carefully about why you want one. The most common reasons why people use lozenges are (1) a hoarse-sounding voice, (2) throat pain, (3) cough.
Sometimes these symptoms occur together, sometimes not. They are relieved by different ingredients, and some of those ingredients have side effects that you don’t want. So it’s important to choose the right lozenge for the right reason.
Throat lozenges advertised to relieve sore throat pain or to feel “cool” typically contain menthol, eucalyptus, or benzocaine, which temporarily numb the throat. These lozenges are aromatic, which means you inhale the chemicals as vapors. Unfortunately, the same chemicals that give temporary pain relief tend to irritate the vocal folds, making them more vulnerable to infection and strain.
You are also more likely to overuse your voice if the “stop, it hurts!” signal from your throat is numbed out. So if used constantly for more than a few days, or during times of heavy voice usage, these pain-relieving products can make your voice worse rather than better.
How to choose the ingredients that suit your condition:
- If the problem is mostly the sound of your voice, lozenges won’t help. Instead, rest your voice as much as you can, stay hydrated, and use a plain-water (steam) vaporizer in your bedroom and/or living area, for the extra humidity that truly soothes your airway. If your voice doesn’t go back to normal as the rest of your cold symptoms clear, see an ENT specialist.
- For acute pain relief related to a sore throat and cold, use cooling or numbing lozenges, but only as absolutely necessary, i.e. for a few days. Avoid heavy talking or singing during that time because your vocal cords are probably swollen and extra-sensitive to irritation, both from overuse and from the numbing chemicals.
- For a dry-tickly cough, do not use pain-killing lozenges or cough drops. Their aromatic, sharp chemicals may irritate your vocal cords further and increase your desire to cough, creating a vicious cycle. Steam and fluids will help much more. Non-medicated lozenges can help stimulate saliva and keep your throat feeling moist; label ingredients such as pectin and glycerin are both soothing and safe. Ask your pharmacist about other “dry mouth” products that may be helpful.
- If your throat hurts for more than a few days, stays hoarse for two weeks, or a cough stays troublesome after other symptoms have cleared, don’t keep numbing the problem—see a doctor!
The following are shown alphabetically by brand, in each category; active ingredients are as listed on product label or manufacturer’s website.
Lozenges that are useful for lubrication and general throat comfort
Some ingredients are thought to boost immunity or relieve cold symptoms. No advertised pain relief, no known risk of irritation.
Cold-eeze: Zinc (nutritional)
Greither’s Pastilles: Glycerin (moistener)
Halls Breezers: Pectin (moistener)
Halls Defense: Vitamin C, Echinacea, Zinc (nutritional)
Hold DM: Dextromethorphan (cough suppressant)
Luden’s Wild Cherry: Pectin (moistener)
Smith Brothers: Pectin (moistener)
Thayers: Slippery Elm (moistener)
Zand Elderberry Zinc: Zinc (nutritional)
Zand Herbalozenge: Vitamin C, Echinacea, Zinc (nutritional)
Lozenges for temporary relief of sore throat pain
Some risk of vocal cord irritation; do not use heavily, for long periods of time, or during times of heavy vocal demand.
Bee MD: Menthol
Cepacol: Benzocaine and/or menthol
Chloraseptic Sore Throat: Benzocaine
Fisherman’s Friend: Menthol
Hall’s Naturals, Plus, Regular, Sugar Free: Menthol
Luden’s Honey Lemon: Menthol
N’Ice : Menthol
Olba’s Pastilles: Menthol
Ricola (all): Menthol
Sucrets (all): Menthol and/or Dyclonine
Throat Discs: Anise oil, peppermint oil (menthol)
Vicks: Benzocaine, menthol
*This information is provided for educational purposes. It is not an endorsement or criticism of any product, brand, or remedy, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition or disease.