Bad breath (halitosis) is a common symptom of tonsillitis. Home remedies can help you manage the condition and this symptom at home, but frequent infections could mean you need a tonsillectomy.

Your tonsils are two lumpy pieces of tissue that you can see when you open your mouth wide and look at the sides of your throat. They’re parts of your immune system that help keep bacteria and viruses from getting into your body by filtering out infectious material before it passes your throat.

But as a result, your tonsils are prone to inflammation and infection. This condition is known as tonsillitis. The symptoms and complications of tonsillitis can result in noticeably bad breath (halitosis).

Read on to learn more about why tonsillitis can cause bad breath, what symptoms to watch out for, and what you can do about bad breath caused by tonsillitis.

Bad breath is a common symptom of tonsillitis.

In many cases, bad breath results from bacteria buildup on your tonsils. As the bacteria attack your tonsil tissues, they produce volatile sulfuric compounds (VSCs) as part of their waste processes. VSCs most associated with bad breath include:

  • hydrogen sulfide
  • methyl mercaptan
  • dimethyl sulfide

The inflammation of the mucous membranes around the tonsils can also cause a bad smell.

Infected tonsil tissues can also produce pus made of dead white blood cells and bacteria. Pus is a common symptom of active infections and usually smells bad due to the decomposing waste it contains.

Your tonsils can also carry food waste trapped in little grooves in and around your tonsils, known as tonsillar crypts. Buildup in the tonsillar crypts can lead to the formation of tonsilloliths — or tonsil stones. The combination of bacteria, food particles, and the warmth of infected tissues causes chemical reactions that result in a noticeably foul odor.

What does tonsillitis smell like?

Bad breath from tonsillitis may smell different than bad breath from not brushing your teeth or eating something smelly. The bacteria, VSCs, and decaying material result in bad breath from tonsillitis to be richer and fouler. Some may describe it as smelling like:

  • rotten eggs
  • rotten cabbage
  • sulfur
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Bad breath may indicate you have tonsillitis. But there are usually other symptoms that go along with it, including:

When to get medical help

Get medical help if you notice any of the following symptoms along with swollen or painful tonsils:

  • fever above 103°F (39.5°C)
  • muscle weakness
  • stiff neck that doesn’t go away with rest
  • sore throat that lasts for more than 2 days
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Tonsilitis often resolves without treatment, and bad breath will disappear.

But even when you treat tonsillitis, you may experience bad breath for a few days or weeks after the initial infection goes away.

Here are some ways you can reduce bad breath when you have tonsillitis.


Gargle with warm, clean water and a pinch of salt a few times daily during infection.

This can help remove buildup, loosen tonsil stones, and rinse off infected areas to help reduce infectious bacteria.

You can also use a mouthwash with an antiseptic like alcohol or eucalyptus to help fight off infectious bacteria in the throat while also helping make your breath smell fresher.


A doctor may prescribe antibiotics if a serious bacterial infection, like Streptococcus, is causing severe pain or long-term tonsillitis. This can help treat the underlying cause quickly and reduce your symptoms, including bad breath.

Doctors are usually cautious about prescribing antibiotics as a first line of treatment. This is because you may increase your risk of antibiotic resistance or cause disruptive side effects that may be more uncomfortable than bad breath. Be sure to take the entire course of treatment when you’re prescribed antibiotics.

They may recommend antiviral medications instead if your tonsillitis is due to a viral infection. But these kinds of infections may also resolve on their own without treatment.


You may need to have a doctor remove your tonsils if you frequently get tonsillitis. This procedure is called a tonsillectomy. Doctors typically recommend tonsillectomy in children who have had tonsillitis with a throat infection:

  • seven times in the past year
  • five times per year for 2 years
  • three times per year for 3 years

Other situations may also cause a doctor to consider tonsillectomy in children. There aren’t any official guidelines for tonsillectomy in adults, but clinicians sometimes apply the same criteria to adults.

You’ll no longer have any risk of tonsillitis after their removal, which can help reduce instances of bad breath. It can also help you breathe or swallow better if you’ve had long-term swelling or inflammation.

You might still get other infections that can cause bad breath, like pharyngitis or strep throat. But these tend to be less severe after tonsillectomy.


Cryptolysis is a procedure more common outside of the United States that can reduce or remove tonsillar crypts from around your tonsils. A doctor might perform it instead of a tonsillectomy to help prevent food and other substances from getting stuck in these small spaces.

Cryptolysis can help stop bad breath from trapped food, mucus, or postnasal drip in the tonsillar crypts.

Can I clean my tonsils at home?

There are several ways you can help keep your tonsils clean at home, including:

  • coughing to remove stones
  • regular salt water gargles
  • gargling or drinking apple cider vinegar
  • licorice lozenges
  • warm tea and honey
  • popsicles and ice chips
  • humidifiers
  • eating probiotic foods like yogurt
  • brushing your teeth with diluted essential oils, such as myrrh or lemongrass
  • flushing out debris or tonsil stones with a Waterpik
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Tonsillitis often causes bad breath due to infections of the mucus membranes around the tonsils and the production of pus. Tonsil stones or substances stuck in tonsillar crypts can also contribute to bad breath.

Try to take preventive measures at home to reduce tonsil infections and tonsil stones. But be sure to seek medical help if you have a sore, painful throat that lasts more than a few days or comes back frequently.