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Tonsillitis

Find advice and treatment for tonsillitis here.

Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is a common childhood illness, but teenagers and adults can get it, too. It usually goes away on its own after a few days.
Woman with sore throat

Check if you have tonsillitis

Tonsillitis can feel like a bad cold or flu. The tonsils at the back of your throat will be red and swollen.

The main symptoms in children and adults are:

a sore throat
difficulty swallowing
hoarse or no voice
a high temperature of 38C or above
coughing
a headache
feeling sick
earache
feeling tired

Sometimes the symptoms can be more severe and include:

swollen, painful glands in your neck (feels like a lump on the side of your neck)
white pus-filled spots on your tonsils at the back of your throat
bad breath

How long tonsillitis lasts

Symptoms will usually go away after 3 to 4 days.
Tonsillitis is not contagious, but the infections that cause it are (for example, colds and flu).

To stop these infections spreading:

stay off work or keep your child at home until you or your child feel better
use tissues when you cough or sneeze and throw them away after
wash your hands after coughing or sneezing

How to treat tonsillitis yourself

Tonsillitis usually is elf limiting and has to run its course.

To help ease the symptoms:

get plenty of rest
drink cool drinks to soothe the throat
take paracetamol or ibuprofen (do not give aspirin to children under 16)
gargle with warm salty water (children should not try this)

A pharmacist can help with tonsillitis

Speak to a pharmacist about tonsillitis.

They can give advice and suggest treatments to ease a sore throat, like:

lozenges
throat sprays
antiseptic solutions

See a healthcare practitioner if:

you have white pus-filled spots on the tonsils at the back of your throat
the sore throat is so painful it's difficult to eat or drink
the symptoms do not go away after 4 days

What happens at your appointment

The healthcare practitioner can usually tell its tonsillitis by asking about your symptoms and looking at the back of your throat.

Sometimes they might:

wipe a cotton bud at the back of your throat to test for bacteria
organise a blood test to rule out glandular fever (if your symptoms are severe or will not go away)
Usually you'll get any test results back within a couple of days.

Treatment from a healthcare practitioner

Treatment will depend on what caused your tonsillitis:

a virus (viral tonsillitis), which most children and adults have – this type has to run its course and antibiotics will not help
bacteria (bacterial tonsillitis) – the healthcare practitioner may prescribe antibiotics
It's very rare that someone needs to have their tonsils taken out. This is usually only the case if you have severe tonsillitis that keeps coming back.

Complications with tonsillitis (quinsy)

Complications with tonsillitis are very rare. If they happen, they mostly affect young children aged 2 to 4.
Sometimes you can get a pocket filled with pus (abscess) between your tonsils and the wall of your throat. This is called quinsy.

Urgent advice: Go to A&E if you have these signs of quinsy:

a severe sore throat that quickly gets worse
swelling inside the mouth and throat
difficulty speaking
difficulty swallowing
difficulty breathing
difficulty opening your mouth