Tonsillitis is a condition that occurs when your tonsils become infected. It can be caused by both bacterial and viral infections. Tonsillitis can lead to symptoms such as:
- swollen or inflamed tonsils
- sore throat
- pain when swallowing
- hoarse voice
- bad breath
- ear pain
Viral infections that cause tonsillitis pass on their own. Bacterial infections may require antibiotics. Treatment may also focus on relieving the symptoms of tonsillitis, such as using NSAIDs like ibuprofen to relieve inflammation and pain.
There are a number of home remedies that can effectively treat or reduce the symptoms of tonsillitis.
1. Salt water gargling
Gargling and rinsing with warm salt water can help sooth a sore throat and pain caused by tonsillitis. It can also reduce inflammation, and may even help to treat infections.
Stir about ½ teaspoon of salt in about 4 ounces of warm water. Stir until the salt is dissolved. Gargle and swish through the mouth for several seconds and then spit it out. You can rinse with regular water.
2. Licorice lozenges
Lozenges can help to soothe the throat, but they’re not all created equal. Some lozenges will contain ingredients with natural anti-inflammatory properties, or ingredients that can soothe pain on their own. Lozenges containing licorice as an ingredient can have strong anti-inflammatory benefits, soothing both discomfort and swelling in the tonsils and throat.
Lozenges shouldn’t be given to young children due to the choking risk. Instead, throat sprays are often a much better choice for children of this age. If you’re unsure, call their pediatrician.
3. Warm tea with raw honey
Warm beverages like tea can help to reduce discomfort that can occur as a result of tonsillitis. Raw honey, often added to tea, has strong antibacterial properties, and may help to treat the infections causing the tonsillitis.
Drink tea warm instead of hot, and stir in the honey until dissolved. Certain teas may strengthen the benefits of this home remedy. Ginger tea, for example, is a strong anti-inflammatory, as is fennel tea, which can help to reduce inflammation and discomfort.
4. Popsicles and ice chips
Cold can be highly effective in treating pain, inflammation, and swelling that often comes with tonsillitis. Popsicles, frozen drinks like ICEEs, and frozen foods like ice cream can be particularly helpful to young children who can’t use other home remedies safely. Older children and adults can also suck on ice chips.
Humidifiers can help to relieve the sore throat if the air is dry, or you’re experiencing dry mouth as a result of the tonsillitis. Dry air can irritate the throat, and humidifiers can help sooth discomfort in the throat and tonsils by adding moisture back into the air. Cool-mist humidifiers are most beneficial, especially when viruses are the cause of the tonsillitis.
Keep your humidifier on as needed, especially when you sleep at night, until the tonsillitis subsides. If you don’t have a humidifier and want fast relief, sitting in a room filled with steam from the shower can also provide humidity that can reduce symptoms.
When to see your doctor
Certain symptoms indicate that you may need to see your doctor for treatment. Certain types of bacterial infections that can affect the tonsils, like strep throat, require prescription antibiotics for treatment.
You should make an appointment to see your doctor if you experience a combination of the following symptoms:
- persistent sore or scratchy throat that doesn’t go away within 24 to 48 hours
- painful swallowing, or difficulty swallowing
- fussiness in infants and young children
- swollen lymph nodes
These symptoms may indicate a bacterial infection that requires antibiotics.
Outlook and recovery
Many cases of tonsillitis resolve quickly. Tonsillitis caused by viruses typically resolve within 7 to 10 days after rest and plenty of fluids. Bacterial tonsillitis may take about a week to go away, though many people start feeling better a day or so after taking the antibiotics.
Whether you’re getting prescription treatment or sticking to home remedies, drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest to help your body recover.
In rare, severe cases, a tonsillectomy (or surgical removal of the tonsils) may be used to treat recurrent and persistent cases of tonsillitis. This is typically an outpatient procedure. Many people, children and adults alike, will make a full recovery within fourteen days.