Tonsillitis | Treatment

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How is tonsillitis treated?

If your tonsillitis is caused by a virus, antibiotics won’t help. But you can use some home treatments to relieve your symptoms. You may try the following:

  • Drinking warm, soothing liquids, such as soup, broth, or tea with honey and lemon
  • Gargling with warm salt water (1/4 teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water)
  • Taking acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol) or ibuprofen (two brand names: Advil, Motrin) for fever and pain. Keep in mind that children should not take aspirin. Aspirin can cause a serious illness called Reye's syndrome when it is given to children younger than 18 years of age.
  • Sucking on a throat lozenge or hard candy
  • Using a cool-mist humidifier to moisten the air
  • Resting your voice

Antibiotics can treat tonsillitis caused by bacteria. If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions and take all of the medicine. If you don’t, your infection may come back. Also, taking your antibiotics properly helps you reduce the risk of infecting other people. You won’t be contagious after about 24 hours of treatment.

If your tonsils are so swollen that they are making it hard to breathe, your doctor may prescribe treatment with steroids.

Will I need to have my tonsils taken out?

Surgery to take out the tonsils (called tonsillectomy) used to be fairly common. Now this surgery is only recommended in serious cases or if tonsillitis occurs frequently (called chronic tonsillitis). A tonsillectomy is usually an outpatient surgery, meaning you don’t have to stay in the hospital. However, adults rarely need a tonsillectomy.

If tonsillitis goes untreated, a collection of pus (called an abscess) can form in the back of the throat, behind the tonsils. If you have an abscess, your doctor will need to drain it with a needle. In severe cases, a tonsillectomy may be necessary to remove the abscess.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 02/11
Created: 08/09

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