Ease the aches with these quick, affordable and (yes, really ... sometimes!) enjoyable solutions.
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Sick woman with a sore throat staying at home
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15 million: The number of Americans who see a doctor regarding a sore throat each and every year, says one study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. About 70% of those receive antibiotics, but less than 1 in 3 of any age (in fact, about 1 in 10 adults) actually has strep throat. That means:

  1. A lot of individuals are receiving prescriptions they don't need and that won't help.
  2. There are likely millions more who suffer at home, attempting to just "ride it out."

There's actually a third option, though: There are a handful of doctor-approved ache-easers you can try yourself, no prescription required.

At-home treatments are often the only—and the best—solution, unless the sore throat is actually caused by bacteria like group A Streptococcus (aka Streptococcus pyogenes). As we mentioned, that's pretty rare.

Cold and flu cases are not rare, though. And neither are the times that they can occur. Cold and flu season—sore throats, sniffles, sneezes and all—tends to peak from December through February, but it can linger on until May, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That leaves a lot of potential time for suffering.

"A sore throat is a painful inflammation of the back of the throat that is most often caused by viral infections, and can at times be due to bacteria, too," says Monaa Zafar, M.D., a primary care physician at Westmed Medical Group in Purchase, New York. "There are other uncommon causes like allergies, dryness, irritant exposure, reflux and structural causes as well."

If you have a sore throat that does not chill out through at-home remedies and is associated with fevers, visit your clinician to get tested for a bacterial infection called strep throat, suggests Isabel Valdez, P.A., a physician assistant and assistant professor of internal medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. And while we all want to find the fastest solution to soothe a pesky sore throat, "This is one instance when you may need an antibiotic. Otherwise, the tincture of time will help improve your symptoms," says Valdez.

That being said, there are several quick and fairly easy ways to nip the pain in the bud if it's not caused by bacteria. Read on for your in-home prescription for finding relief as quickly as possible.

The Fastest Way to Relieve a Sore Throat, According to Doctors

If you notice difficulty swallowing—and that it's more than just a little painful—seek care from your M.D. ASAP, recommends Mary Pat Friedlander, M.D., associate medical director at UPMC St. Margaret Family Medicine Residency in Pittsburgh. And if you see white spots on your tonsils or think you may have mononucleosis, call your medical provider to ask if an office visit and test might be beneficial.

Otherwise, "Since many sore throat complaints relate to a viral infection, the sore throat will resolve over time," Valdez says. "These remedies will make the recovery less uncomfortable."

1. Stay hydrated.

"The drier your throat is, the worse it will hurt," Friedlander explains.

Keeping the throat moist means it feels less irritated. That said, a lot of people struggle to stay hydrated because it hurts to swallow, which leads to more irritation and soreness. In case that resonates, try something warm and soothing—check out the only tea one of our editors drinks when she feels a sore throat coming on.

Any recipe that includes honey, say, a mug of warm tea with a teaspoon of manuka honey (buy it: $23.89 for 8.8 ounces, Target) "can soothe the throat and serve as an antimicrobial," says Valdez.

2. Chill out with an ice pop.

Avoid any irritants like cigarette smoke, Zafar says, and give your voice a rest.

If swallowing the room-temp or warm bevvies mentioned above feels painful, try a cooler way to stay hydrated.

"Use cold things like popsicles to help with hydration if swallowing is painful," Friedlander says. Bonus: This will also keep you from overdoing it on the chatting (at least for a few minutes!).

Look for an option at the grocery store sweetened with fruit rather than added sugar—which also means it will deliver nutrients, like vitamins C and A.

3. Sleep with a humidifier.

In addition to staying hydrated internally, a humid-enough external environment may help you feel better, too.

"Sleep with a humidifier in your room to keep the air moist, and during the day when you have a sore throat, bring that humidifier with you into the rooms you spend the most time in," Friedlander says, such as your home office.

4. Gargle salt water.

To every 8 ounces of tepid, or lukewarm, water, mix in about ¼ to ½ teaspoon of salt. Then get your gargle on.

"The tepid salt water gargles help draw out fluid from the inflamed tissue in the throat and thereby relieve symptoms. The gargles also help keep the throat moist and help with hydration, which is important when our bodies fight off an infection," Zafar says, confirming that you can keep up with this twice per day (or more, if desired and if you find it beneficial). "This should provide relief after the first couple of uses, and increased use results in increased relief."

The Bottom Line

"These home remedies only provide temporary relief. Consider rotating them along with other therapies such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen and topical analgesics, such as throat lozenges," suggests Jonathan Simmonds, M.D., an ear, nose and throat physician and sinus and skull base surgeon at Westmed Medical Group in Rye, New York.

Oh yes, and plenty of rest. Try these four at-home sore throat relief options for 72 to 96 hours. As you do, keep in mind that "it's important to follow up with your doctor if you do not experience relief in a few days or if your symptoms get worse," Zafar says.

And to fend off sore throats before they happen next time, study up on 5 easy ways to stay healthy through cold and flu season.