In this article:
How long does it normally take to recover from tonsillitis?
It takes a week to recover from tonsillitis.
Can tonsillitis heal by itself without any medication?
Tonsillitis can be caused by viral infections (much more common) and bacterial infections (about 1/3 or less of the cases).
Of the bacterial causes, the most common is caused by a particular strain called Streptococcus pyogenes.
Viral causes do not require treatment with antibiotics and should be cared for by providing supportive treatment including the following:
- Taking lots of fluids
- Consuming soft foods
- Pain control measures
- Gargles for sore throat
- Taking medicines such as Motrin or Tylenol for pain management and fever if needed.
Another common cause of tonsillitis is streptococcal bacteria. The same bacteria are also responsible for causing a strep throat.
Strep throat which sometimes leads to tonsillitis is diagnosed by doing a rapid strep test and sometimes a throat culture if needed.
Strep tonsillitis refers to tonsillitis caused by strep bacteria, most often treated with antibiotics such as penicillin.
Even if antibiotics are not given, strep tonsillitis will usually resolve itself in 7-10 days.
However, as the strep bacteria responsible for tonsillitis can also cause rheumatic heart disease and other rare complications, most cases of strep tonsillitis are treated with antibiotics.
Does steam inhalation help in treating tonsillitis?
Steam inhalation is not as helpful in treating tonsillitis as it is for sinusitis or upper respiratory infection. Gargling, on the other hand, can soothe inflamed tonsils and provide great relief from tonsillitis symptoms.
Tips to help prevent and treat tonsillitis
- Most tonsillitis cases are viral. Observing proper hygiene including washing hands frequently and not sharing water bottles, straws, and toothbrushes, especially with anyone who is sick, helps prevent the spread of infection.Strep tonsillitis is spread by contact and remains contagious until 1-2 days of starting antibiotic treatment.
- It is advisable to change toothbrushes after being treated for strep tonsillitis to prevent recurrence.
- When you are feeling sick and have a sore throat, avoid going to public places to prevent the spread of infection, usually through the air.
- Rest, sleep, and hydration are helpful in recovering quickly as they boost your immunity.
- Consume foods that boost your immunity and help your body heal better. These foods include chicken soup, bone broth, turmeric, and ginger. Alcohol and smoking have the opposite effect and should be avoided when sick.
- If antibiotics are prescribed, it is essential to complete the full course. Stopping the medication midway leads to the development of antibiotic resistance and makes it harder to treat the infection.
- Another cause of tonsillitis seen in older children, teens, and young adults is “mono” or the kissing disease.This is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and can vary from a mild illness to a more severe form where the tonsils swell up and have white patches (exudate).Swollen lymph nodes, fever, and fatigue also characterize this condition. This disease is spread by contact, especially the exchange of salivary fluids, hence the moniker kissing disease.Given that mono does not always manifest in a very noticeable way, it often goes undetected. If diagnosed, it is best to avoid any close personal contact with the affected individual.
- Tonsillitis and throat inflammation can also be seen in the setting of poorly controlled allergies. Controlling allergies as much as possible by allergen avoidance, environmental control, taking antihistamines, doing sinus rinses (neti pot), and gargling can help prevent and treat tonsillitis in this setting.
- Irritants like cigarette smoke and pollution can also lead to throat and tonsil inflammation. Smoking cessation is helpful not only for the prevention of tonsillitis but also for many other health benefits.
- Staying indoors or wearing a mask in highly polluted environments can reduce exposure to pollutants.
- Gargling with salt water can help as well, not only to soothe your irritated throat but also to fight any underlying infection or germs.
- In individuals suffering from frequent strep tonsillitis or other bacterial and exudative tonsillitis (5-6 infections a year), surgery to remove the tonsils can be very beneficial and can significantly reduce the incidence of strep throat.
- Tonsil stones can sometimes lead to tonsillitis. Tonsil stones occur as the lining of the tonsil forms pits and tunnels where food gets trapped.These can be avoided in early phases by gargling after meals and using a water pick or a tip to tease out the accumulated debris.However, in chronic and frequent cases affecting the quality of life, surgery to remove the tonsils may be needed.
What foods should be avoided when suffering from tonsillitis?
Foods that irritate the throat should be avoided. Although common sense can guide you in making the appropriate food choices, it is best to stay off hard, spicy, or acidic foods until your throat recovers.
Additionally, limit your intake of dairy as it can make your spit thicker, making swallowing difficult or uncomfortable.
Alcohol and smoking can worsen the discomfort associated with swollen tonsils and should be avoided.
Can inflamed tonsils burst?
Sometimes, a tonsil infection can spread beyond the tonsil and cause a peritonsillar abscess.
This causes severe one-sided pain and makes it difficult for the patient to open the jaw or swallow anything.
The abscess can spread to the deeper spaces of the neck as well and therefore needs immediate medical attention to keep your condition from worsening.
If treatment to drain the abscess is not available or delayed, it can sometimes burst and release pus in the mouth.
Another less serious condition is the formation of tonsil stones, which are essentially trapped food in the tunnels of the tonsil.
Tonsil stones mostly occur in older kids and adults and can sometimes develop pus pockets that might burst.
What is the difference between tonsillitis and sore throat?
Sore throat means that the throat hurts. The throat is made up of many structures including the tonsils, roof of the mouth called the palate, back of the throat called the pharynx, back of the tongue, and voice box.
A disease or irritation in any of these throat structures can lead to a “sore throat.”
Tonsillitis refers more specifically to the inflammation or infection of the tonsils and is a common cause of sore throat, especially in children.
Can tonsillitis be a sign of cancer?
Tonsillitis is an infection associated with fever, pain in both tonsils (sometimes one-sided only), swollen tender glands of the neck, and malaise.
If there is persistent one-sided pain with an abnormal or large-looking tonsil with or without tender swollen glands of the neck, then one should get checked out for cancer.
Most classical cases of tonsillitis do not mimic cancer.