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Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 1, 2023.

What is tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is inflammation of your tonsils. Tonsils are the lumps of tissue on both sides of the back of your throat. Tonsils are part of your immune system. They help you fight infections. Recurrent tonsillitis is when you have tonsillitis many times in 1 year. Chronic tonsillitis is when you have a sore throat that lasts 3 months or longer.

Mouth Anatomy

What causes tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis may be caused by a bacterial or a viral infection. Tonsillitis can spread from an infected person to others through coughing, sneezing, or touching. It can also spread through kissing or sharing food and drinks.

What are the signs and symptoms of tonsillitis?

  • Severe sore throat
  • Red, swollen tonsils
  • Painful swallowing
  • Fever and chills
  • Bad breath
  • White spots on the tonsils

How is tonsillitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your ears, nose, and throat. Your provider will ask about your symptoms. You may also need any of the following:

  • A throat culture may show which germ is causing your illness. A cotton swab is rubbed against the back of your throat.
  • Blood tests may show if you have an infection caused by bacteria or a virus.

How is tonsillitis treated?

Treatment may decrease your signs and symptoms. Treatment also may lower the number of times that you get tonsillitis in a year. You may need any of the following:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Antibiotics help treat a bacterial infection.
  • A tonsillectomy is surgery to remove your tonsils. You may need surgery if you have chronic or recurrent tonsillitis. Surgery may also be done if antibiotics are not working.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Rest when you feel it is needed. Slowly start to do more each day. Return to your daily activities as directed.
  • Drink liquids as directed. You may need to drink more liquid than usual to prevent dehydration. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Gargle with warm salt water. This may help decrease throat pain. Mix 1 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of warm water. Ask how often you should do this.
  • Prevent the spread of germs. Wash your hands often. Do not share food or drinks with anyone. You may be able to return to work when you feel better and your fever is gone for at least 24 hours.

Call 911 for the following:

  • You have trouble breathing because your tonsils are swollen.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • Your pain gets worse or does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • Your sore throat is not better after you have finished antibiotic treatment.
  • You have trouble sleeping and wake up trying to catch your breath.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.