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Tonsillitis Treatment, Causes, and Prevention

Though tonsillitis is a relatively common issue, anyone who’s had it knows how incredibly uncomfortable it can be. Thankfully, treatment for tonsillitis is simple yet effective. Next, we outline the factors that contribute to its development, how to cure tonsillitis, and methods of prevention.

Your tonsils are two pieces of lymphatic tissue located on each side of the back of your throat. As an integral part of your body’s immune system, they produce white blood cells and antibodies to keep you from getting sick. They also filter bacteria and viruses, blocking them from entering your system.

Tonsillitis is characterized by an inflammation of these tissues. It frequently affects children as they’re often in close physical contact at school, on the playground, etc. But it’s still possible to contract tonsillitis at any age.

Tonsillitis is frequently caused by a viral infection, similar to ones that cause the common cold, such as:

  • Rhinovirus
  • Respiratory syncytial virus
  • Adenovirus
  • Coronavirus

Cases of tonsillitis triggered by the above viruses tend to be mild and uncomplicated. In rare instances, other viruses may be responsible for tonsillitis, like:

  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Hepatitis A
  • Rubella
  • HIV

Lastly, a bacterial infection could also be to blame for tonsillitis, such as:

  • Group A beta-hemolytic streptococcus or streptococcus pyogenes
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Haemophilus influenzae

At first, tonsillitis symptoms feel a lot like you’re getting sick with the flu or a common cold. The number one warning sign of tonsillitis is red, swollen, painful tonsils. Other symptoms include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Coughing
  • Malaise
  • Fatigue
  • Earache

More severe symptoms of tonsillitis might include:

  • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck which are painful to the touch
  • Bad breath
  • Yellow or white patches of pus on your tonsils

Tonsillitis is capable of becoming a chronic or recurring condition, especially when you’ve had roughly five or more episodes in a single year. Chronic tonsillitis presents symptoms that persist for at least two weeks.

Acute, uncomplicated tonsillitis is usually manageable through outpatient treatment. At-home care strategies are as follows:

  • Adequate hydration

Drinking plenty of fluids helps you feel better; it moistens your throat to relieve discomfort and prevent dehydration during recovery.

  • Eating (and drinking) right

Opt for warm drinks and soft foods to soothe your throat. Try tea, broth, soup, frozen yogurt, smoothies, cooked vegetables, mashed fruit, jello, or popsicles. Steer clear of spicy, sour, or crunchy foods, which will only aggravate your discomfort.

  • Gargling frequently

Rinse with warm, salty water, one of the best natural remedies for tonsillitis. Though saltwater won’t cure the infection itself, it does provide symptomatic relief.

  • Getting enough sleep

Clocking several hours of restful sleep per night is sure to help you bounce back a little quicker.

  • Installing a humidifier

A dry throat makes the pain and irritation of tonsillitis even worse. Humidifying the air around you is another great tip.

  • Taking pain medication 

With your doctor’s approval, steroids and NSAIDs may be used to relieve pain and break up a fever caused by tonsillitis.

  • Using lozenges

Check the label and look for lozenges which contain ingredients designed to temporarily soothe your aching throat.

More often than not, tonsillitis symptoms resolve in approximately three to four days. In certain instances, however, you might require medical attention. Tonsillitis itself isn’t contagious, but the viral or bacterial infection that triggered it definitely is.

Keep an eye out for signs of a severe case of tonsillitis. See your doctor immediately if you notice:

  • Throat pain so intense that you can’t eat or drink normally
  • Yellowish or white patches of pus on your tonsils
  • Symptoms which do not improve after four days of at-home treatment

Your doctor will probably collect a throat swab to determine the exact reason for your tonsillitis. They might also run tests to rule out other things, such as glandular fever, or refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT).

For a bout of tonsillitis caused by a bacterial infection, your doctor is going to prescribe a course of antibiotics. Oral penicillin is generally the treatment of choice, but if you’re allergic to penicillin, alternative drugs are available. Remember to take your entire course of antibiotics as prescribed to avoid relapse.

Those experiencing chronic tonsillitis may need to have their tonsils surgically removed. A tonsillectomy is also considered a last resort when the disease fails to respond to antibiotics. It’s a fairly simple surgery occasionally performed in an outpatient setting. Full recovery from a tonsillectomy takes 7 to 14 days.

The surface of your tonsils is always irregular, but some individuals have deeper pits that allow food, bacteria, saliva, and mucus to accumulate inside. Over time, these remains turn into craters and form tonsil stones, also known as tonsilloliths or tonsil calculi. 

Not considered contagious, tonsil stones are light yellow in color, and can be spotted with the naked eye unless they’re buried below the surface. 

Common symptoms of tonsil stones include:

  • Redness and swelling of the tonsils
  • Bad breath
  • Chronic tonsillitis

A tonsillectomy could permanently remove tonsil stones and stop them from coming back. But if this procedure isn’t recommended by your doctor, there are steps you can take to avoid tonsil stones, including:

  • Cleaning your tonsils

Use a cotton swab, the back of your toothbrush, or a low-pressure water irrigator to remove stones as they begin to form. Irrigators should also be used to regularly wash out any debris or food particles as a preventive measure.

  • Practicing good oral hygiene

Be sure to brush your teeth before and after bed, and following every meal. Remember to routinely floss and gargle with an alcohol-free mouthwash.

  • Seeing your doctor

Consult your doctor as soon as you notice any symptoms of tonsil stones or tonsillitis. Never self-medicate; taking antibiotics for tonsil stones won’t necessarily solve the problem.

In rare cases, tonsillitis may lead to certain complications, including:

  • Peritonsillar abscesses
  • Scarlet fever
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Rheumatic fever (an immune disease brought on by a group A streptococcus infection)
  • Rheumatic heart disease (triggered by rheumatic fever)
  • Post-streptococcal acute glomerulonephritis (an immune disease affecting kidney function)

Note that smokers are more prone to developing complications from tonsillitis, such as abscesses.

Generally speaking, tonsillitis is a mild, self-limiting disease, particularly when it’s caused by a viral infection. However, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of severe, recurrent, or chronic tonsillitis, which warrants immediate medical attention. With proper diagnosis and treatment, you’ll be feeling like yourself in no time.






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