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Tonsillitis in Children: Care Instructions

Child's open mouth showing uvula, tongue, and tonsils, 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 usually goes away on its own. Tonsillitis caused by the bacteria that causes strep throat is treated with antibiotics. You and your child's doctor may consider surgery to remove the tonsils if your child has complications from tonsillitis or repeat infections. This surgery is called tonsillectomy.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's 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 your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

Home care can help your child's sore throat and other symptoms. Here are some things you can do to help your child feel better.

  • If the doctor prescribed antibiotics for your child, give them as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Ask your doctor if your child can take over-the-counter pain medicines, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Do not use ibuprofen if your child is less than 6 months old unless the doctor gave you instructions to use it. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 18. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Do not give your child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • If your child is age 8 or older, have your child gargle with warm salt water. This helps reduce swelling and relieve discomfort. Have your child gargle once an hour with 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) of salt mixed in 1 cup (250 mL) of warm water.
  • Have your child drink plenty of fluids. Fluids may help soothe an irritated throat. Your child can drink warm or cool liquids (whichever feels better). These include tea, soup, and juice.
  • Help your child get plenty of rest.
  • Use a cool-mist humidifier in your child's bedroom. Follow the directions for cleaning the machine.

When should you call for help?

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

  • Your child has new or worse symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • Your child has new pain, or pain gets worse.
  • Your child has new or worse trouble swallowing.
  • Your child seems to be getting sicker.

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

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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.