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Tonsillitis: Care Instructions

Open mouth showing uvula, tonsils, and tongue, with detail of healthy tonsils and tonsils red and swollen with tonsillitis.


Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils that is caused by bacteria or a virus. The tonsils are in the back of the throat and are part of the immune system. Tonsillitis typically lasts from a few days up to a couple of weeks.

Tonsillitis caused by a virus goes away on its own. Tonsillitis caused by the bacteria that causes strep throat is treated with antibiotics.

You and your doctor may consider surgery to remove the tonsils (tonsillectomy) if you have serious complications or repeat infections.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Home care can help with a sore throat and other symptoms. Here are some things you can do to help yourself feel better.

  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Gargle with warm salt water. This helps reduce swelling and relieve discomfort. Gargle once an hour with 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of salt mixed in 1 cup (250 mL) of warm water.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. No one younger than 18 should take aspirin. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Be careful when taking over-the-counter cold or (influenza) flu medicines and Tylenol at the same time. Many of these medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Read the labels to make sure that you are not taking more than the recommended dose. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Try lozenges or an over-the-counter throat spray to relieve throat pain.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Fluids may help soothe an irritated throat. Drink warm or cool liquids (whichever feels better). These include tea, soup, and juice.
  • Do not smoke, and avoid second-hand smoke. Smoking can make tonsillitis worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Use a vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to your bedroom. Follow the directions for cleaning the machine.
  • Get plenty of rest.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your pain gets worse on one side of your throat.
  • You have a new or higher fever.
  • You notice changes in your voice.
  • You have trouble opening your mouth.
  • You have any trouble breathing.
  • You have much more trouble swallowing.
  • You have a fever with a stiff neck or a severe headache.
  • You are sensitive to light or feel very sleepy or confused.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You do not get better after 2 days.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.