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The safest ways to whiten your teeth explained
Tonsillitis, or inflammation or swelling of the tonsils, is usually caused by an infection. A little over half of all tonsillitis cases are caused by viral infections, with the rest caused by bacterial infections.1, 2
The same viruses that cause the common cold can cause tonsillitis. Most cases of bacterial tonsillitis are due to strep throat.1, 2
Tonsillitis often runs its course within about a week, whether viral or bacterial.3 However, bacterial tonsillitis can sometimes lead to more serious systemic illnesses.
Tonsillitis and throat cancer can both present with inflammation of the tonsils. However, throat cancer usually only involves one tonsil.4
Tonsillitis can have other symptoms beyond tonsil swelling. These may include:1, 2
Tonsillitis can sometimes be associated with tonsil stones, which are small, calcified deposits on the surface of the tonsils.5
Tonsillitis and related conditions can be associated with poor oral hygiene, which can also lead to tooth decay and gingivitis.
You should see a dentist or doctor if you have swollen tonsils and feel unwell or suspect you have tonsillitis.
A doctor will examine your throat and take into account the following:2
You may be given a rapid strep test to determine whether or not you’re dealing with a streptococcus (bacterial) infection.7
Once tonsillitis has been diagnosed and your doctor has a good idea of whether it’s viral or bacterial in origin, they can move forward with more specific treatment.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help reduce the pain and fever associated with tonsillitis.7
Warm water, herbal tea, and broth can all provide comfort to your throat and tonsils. Cold foods like ice cream can also have a soothing effect.
Adding honey to warm water or herbal tea may provide additional benefits. Honey has antimicrobial properties and can act as a cough suppressant.8
Caffeine and alcohol should be avoided, as they can both contribute to dehydration. Avoid crunchy foods, which could provoke a cough.
Bacterial tonsillitis can generally be treated with antibiotics, such as penicillin or amoxicillin. However, antiviral treatments aren’t likely to be given for viral tonsillitis.7
Steroid medications may also be prescribed to reduce swelling.7, 9
In cases of severe and recurrent tonsillitis, the tonsils may be removed in a procedure called a tonsillectomy. While tonsillectomy can improve quality of life, it sometimes has little effect and isn’t without complications.10, 11
There’s no way to ensure you’ll never get tonsillitis. But there are some steps you can take to reduce your vulnerability to tonsillitis-causing viruses and bacteria.
The following practices can help lower your chances of getting tonsillitis:
Bacterial tonsillitis caused by streptococcus A (strep throat) can sometimes lead to complications if left untreated, such as:1, 7
For this reason, antibiotics are often prescribed for bacterial tonsillitis.1, 7, 9
Swollen tonsils are a common symptom of tonsillitis, which can be caused by viruses or bacteria.
You can prevent tonsillitis by maintaining good oral hygiene, frequently washing your hands, and disinfecting high-traffic areas.
Bacterial tonsillitis can sometimes lead to further complications, but it can be effectively treated with antibiotics. Home remedies and over-the-counter drugs can relieve pain and discomfort from tonsillitis.