Tonsillitis Treatment: 7 Main Options (& 5 Home Remedies)

Updated in December 2023

Tonsillitis treatment typically involves medication such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or amoxicillin. These help reduce pain and inflammation in the throat or eliminate bacteria that may be causing the infection.

Tonsillitis is characterized by inflammation of the throat that is caused by viruses or bacteria. It causes a sore throat, redness, swelling of the tonsils, difficulty swallowing and fever. 

Tonsillitis should be treated as per your doctor’s recommendations. The treatment approach may vary depending on the severity of the symptoms and the type of tonsillitis. Some additional measures can help reduce symptoms, such as drinking plenty of water, resting and eating soft foods.

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Main treatments

The most common tonsillitis treatments prescribed by your doctor to treat this condition include: 

1. Rest

Rest is essential for conserving energy, which is used to help the immune system fight microorganisms.

Physical activity should also be avoided, as it reduces the body's defenses and slows down tonsillitis recovery. Group sports and working out at a gym, for example, can also increase the risk of exposure to other infectious agents.

2. Hydration

Hydration is essential to maintain several bodily functions. It is especially important to drink plenty of water when you have a fever, which increases the risk for dehydration.

In addition, water helps to moisturize and hydrate the throat and airways. It can also reduce the thickness of mucus and reduce throat irritation. 

You are advised to drink at least 2 liters of water throughout the day in small sips. For people who find it difficult to drink water, a good option is to squeeze half a lemon into the water to add flavor and make it easier to swallow.

In cases of viral tonsillitis, maintaining hydration is particularly beneficial, as elimination of a virus is dependent on the body’s immune system. See some teas for a sore throat that you can prepare at home to reduce discomfort and speed-up recovery.

3. Anti-inflammatories

Anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen, nimesulide or naproxen, for example, are usually the first choice of treatment for tonsillitis, especially in cases of viral tonsillitis. They help to reduce inflammation of the tonsils, as well as lower fevers and relieve pain in the throat.

These medications may also be prescribed for the treatment of bacterial tonsillitis, to be taken in addition to antibiotics.

These remedies should be used as prescribed and can be found in the form of tablets, syrup or drops.

Another anti-inflammatory that the doctor can prescribe is acetylsalicylic acid. However, this medication should be avoided by children as it can increase the risk of Reye's syndrome.

4. Analgesics

The use of analgesics, like acetaminophen, may be prescribed by your doctor to help relieve the sore throat and lower a fever caused by viral or bacterial tonsillitis.

5. Corticoids

Corticoids are steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that may be indicated in some cases of acute tonsillitis. They have powerful anti-inflammatory action, which helps to relieve symptoms.

The main corticoid that may be prescribed is dexamethasone. It is administered in a single dose, in tablet form or injected into the muscle.

However, these drugs are not widely prescribed as they do not considerably reduce the severity and duration of pain compared to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

They are also associated with more side effects and should be used with caution in several populations, like children or people with diabetes..

6. Antibiotics

Antibiotics can be prescribed by a doctor in the case of bacterial tonsillitis, as they act by eliminating bacteria. They are especially effective against Streptococcus and Pneumococcus types, which cause inflammation in the tonsils. 

The doctor can prescribe antibiotics from the penicillin class, such as amoxicillin or amoxicillin+clavulanate.  However, for people who are allergic to penicillins, other antibiotics may be indicated, such as azithromycin, clarithromycin or clindamycin. Learn more about strep throat and how it is treated.

These antibiotics should be used until the end of the course or for the number of days indicated by the doctor, even if the symptoms have disappeared, to ensure that the bacteria are completely eliminated and do not gain resistance to the medicine.  Read about the antibiotics for a sore throat that your doctor may prescribe.

7. Surgery

Surgery may be indicated by the doctor in cases of chronic or recurrent tonsillitis, with more than 5 episodes of tonsillitis per year.

In addition, surgery may also be indicated for cases of bacterial tonsillitis that do not improve with antibiotics.

Surgery for tonsillitis, referred to as an tonsillectomy, involves the removal of tonsils. Recovery can take up to 2 weeks. It is normal to experience a sore throat during this time, which is why patients are often advised to eat more foods with a soft consistency while recovering.

Tonsillitis treatment during pregnancy

Treatment for tonsillitis in pregnancy is delicate and should always be assessed by your doctor, who will assess the benefits and risks of different treatment approaches. 

There are no antibiotics that do not pose a potential risk for the fetus, however, the safest antibiotics for use during pregnancy are penicillin and derivatives, such as amoxicillin and cephalexin. Pregnant women who are allergic to penicillin may be prescribed erythromycin.

Pregnant women undergoing tonsillitis treatment should rest throughout the treatment and drink plenty of cold fluids. They can also take medication for fever, like acetaminophen.

Home remedies for tonsillitis

In all cases tonsillitis, you can additionally use the following home remedies:

1. Warm water and salt gargles

Gargling with warm salt water is a great home remedy for tonsillitis, as it has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial action. It helps to relieve sore throats and remove bacteria that can cause inflammation and throat infections. 

To gargle with warm water and salt, add a teaspoon of salt to a glass of warm water and stir. Gargle this solution several times a day. Read more about the benefits of salt water gargles and check-out others you can prepare.

2. Eat foods that boost immunity

Increasing your intake of foods such as cherries, pineapple, strawberries, oranges and tangerines will help strengthen your immune system to fight tonsillitis. 

These foods are rich in vitamin C, which has an antioxidant action that fights free radicals and reduce cellular damage to cells. They help to reduce inflammation and increase the body's natural defenses.

See our list of immune system boosters that you can incorporate into your diet.

3. Drinking warm teas

Drinking warm teas helps keep the body warm and hydrates the throat, to reduce discomfort.

Great options are lemon and honey tea or echinacea tea, as they have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. They help to boost the body's natural defenses, helping to relieve the symptoms 

4. Eating soft foods

Eating foods with a soft or fluid consistency, such as purees or porridge, helps to relieve pain or discomfort when swallowing, which can be caused by tonsil swelling and inflammation.

Some soft food options are mashed potato, pumpkin or carrot, or porridge.

5. Eat foods rich in zinc

Zinc is an important mineral for strengthening the immune system to help fight viruses or bacteria.

You are advised to increase your intake of zinc-rich foods, such as boiled chicken or baked beans, for example. Read more about what to eat for a sore throat to speed-up recovery.

Possible complications

Tonsillitis that is left untreated can lead to complications such as:

  • Rheumatic fever
  • Scarlet fever
  • Inflammation of the kidneys
  • Reactive arthritis
  • Peritonsillar abscess
  • Sleep apnea

These complications are more likely to develop in cases of bacterial tonsillitis or chronic tonsillitis.

It is therefore important to consult a doctor as soon as symptoms of tonsillitis appear, so that the underlying cause can be identified and treatment can be initiated.