Is Tonsillitis Contagious? Causes, Symptoms & Home Remedies

What Is Tonsillitis?

There are two oval-shaped pads of tissues on the back of our throat, one on each side. These are known as tonsils. When the tonsils get inflamed, the afflicted person starts suffering from a condition known as tonsillitis. It is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Sore throat.
  • Swollen tonsils.
  • Lymph nodes on the side of the neck would be swollen and tender as well.

Medical treatment for tonsillitis depends upon a lot of factors such as how the affliction responds to various home or OTC remedies and how frequently the person suffers from the affliction. Surgery to remove the tonsils is pretty common, but it should always be used as a last resort.

Is Tonsillitis Contagious?

Is Tonsillitus Contagious

The most common cause of tonsillitis is the bacterium Streptococcus progenies, although it may be caused by other strains of the same or different bacteria. The affliction can spread via direct contact. However, the good news is that the spread can easily be prevented with the help of some easy to follow common sense hygiene practices such as:

  • The afflicted person should be isolated from others till he recovers completely.
  • She should always cough or sneeze with her mouth fully covered.
  • No one should share or use the afflicted person’s personal items.

Bacterial tonsillitis may be contagious for 2 weeks if left untreated. If is is treated with antibiotics, the patient stops being contagious 48 hours after the medication is started.

If the onset of tonsillitis is due to a viral infection, the patient is usually contagious for about 7 – 10 days.

Causes: How Do You Get Tonsillitis?

Tonsils are the first line of defense against bacteria that enters our body through the throat; hence it is pretty common for the tonsils to get infected. However the immunological activities of the tonsils decrease significantly after puberty, hence cases of tonsillitis are most commonly seen in children from their pre-school years up to their mid-teenage years. Tonsillitis is highly uncommon among adults.

As mentioned earlier, tonsillitis is mainly caused by various strains of the Streptococcus bacteria. Such cases are known as bacterial tonsillitis. Other relatively common causes of tonsillitis are:

    • Adenovirus: This virus is also known to cause diarrhea.
    • Enterovirus: It also causes hand, foot and mouth disease.
    • Influenza virus
    • Parainfluenza virus: This also causes croup and laryngitis.
  • Rubeola virus: Also causes measles.


Following are the most common symptoms of tonsillitis:

  • Bad breath.
  • Difficulty swallowing, with every effort being extremely painful.
  • Sore throat.
  • The lymph nodes on either corner of the neck would be swollen and painful.
  • Fever and headache. Temperatures are usually greater than 100.4F (38C).
  • The tonsils themselves would be red and swollen and may have white or yellow patches on them. That is because these spots are filled with pus.
  • Stomachache, however this symptom is only common among children in their pre-school years.
  • Stiff neck.
  • The voice will sound really hoarse.
  • Pain in the ears.
  • Constant fatigue and other symptoms of general malaise.

Extremely young children find it difficult to express how they are feeling. However, the following signs may indicate that they may be suffering from tonsillitis:

  • Drooling, as they are unable to swallow the saliva because of the pain. They may refuse to eat as well!
  • They may seem to be really fussy. That is because they are feeling the effects of general malaise, which they are unable to express.

Home Remedies for Tonsillitis

Suffering from tonsillitis is one of the most common afflictions among children and not every case requires urgent medical attention or surgery. Most cases of this affliction can be easily taken care of with the help of the following home remedies:

  1. Rest

Our natural immunity is extremely adept at dealing with a wide variety of microorganisms that invade our body, including those that cause tonsillitis. Make sure that the sufferer rests aplenty and speaks as little as possible so that her natural immunity can fight the affliction.

  1. Fluids

The sufferer should drink plenty of fluids to keep the throat moist. There is a general aversion towards drinking anything because swallowing is really painful. However a dry throat will exacerbate the symptoms, hence it is imperative that the sufferer stays hydrated. Warm soup and broth should be provided in abundance. As the sufferer will find solid food to be next to impossible to swallow, soups and broth will not only keep the person hydrated, but will also be an important source of essential nutrients.

  1. Humidify the Air

There is only so much fluids that a person can possibly drink. However, if you live in a relatively dry climate, the throat of the afflicted person may still feel dry, irrespective of the amount of fluids they consume. Using a cool-air humidifier (like the kind used during the winter to get rid of static electricity) will raise the humidity of the room and will allow the throat of the sufferer to stay hydrated for extended periods of time.

  1. Lemon

Lemon can help fight tonsillitis because of the following reasons:

  • It has natural anti-microbial properties that can help fight the external invaders.
  • It has anti-inflammatory properties as well that can help reduce the swelling.
  • It is rich in Vitamin C that boosts the immunity of the afflicted person.

You can make a drink to treat tonsillitis with the help of the following steps:

  • Take a glass of water. It should be warmer than lukewarm, but not be so hot that it damages internal tissue.
  • Squeeze an entire lemon in the water. You can also add a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of honey. Not only will they improve the taste, they will help cure the affliction as well because:
    • Honey has mild anti-bacterial properties that can help stave off bacterial tonsillitis.
    • Salt is an astringent, which makes it an effective anti-microbial agent. It can draw the pus out of the inflamed tonsils, thus providing some welcome relief. It can also kill the invading microbes by dehydrating them.

The sufferer should drink the aforementioned drink twice every day until the affliction is cured, which should happen in a few days.

An alternate, more aggressive form of this treatment would be to take a slice of lemon, sprinkle some salt on it and then suck on it directly for up to three times a day. One can add a teaspoon of honey if they find the taste of raw lemons to be a bit too strong.

  1. Carrot Juice

Carrots are rich in Vitamin A, which boosts your immunity and helps the sufferer fight the affliction from the inside. Drinking carrot juice three times a day can get rid of the affliction relatively quickly.

  1. Papaya Juice

Papaya contains an enzyme known as papaya proteinase or papain, which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduced the swelling in the inflamed tonsils. Drinking papaya juice a couple of times every day should go a long way towards getting relief from tonsillitis.

  1. Gargles

These are the most commonly cited home remedy for tonsillitis, probably because they tend to be extremely effective. There are quite a few different ways you can prepare gargles, however irrespective of the way it is prepared, one should always spit out the gargle water and never swallow it, so that the extracted microbes exit the system of the sufferer instead of entering it further.

Following are the most effective gargles:

  • Salt water gargle: We have already established why salt can help combat the microbes that are causing tonsillitis. To prepare this gargle, mix one teaspoon of table salt in a glass of warmer than lukewarm water. The sufferer can use this as often as he would like.
  • Onion gargle: Onions have documented anti-microbial properties that can be used to fight a case of tonsillitis. Simply run a full-sized onion through the food processor to extract the juice and add two tablespoons of the juice to a glass of warm water. Alternatively you can boil three onions in a pan of water for about ten minutes. Let this cool down to a warmer than lukewarm stage and then use it for gargling.
  • Turmeric gargle: The anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric are almost legendary. They were first documented in Ayurveda and it has been used in traditional Indian and Chinese medical practitioners for centuries. Simply add a teaspoon of turmeric to a glass of warmer than lukewarm water and use it to gargle. Some prefer adding it to the salt water gargle to increase its potency.
  • Fenugreek seeds gargle: Fenugreek seeds have potent anti-microbial properties as well, which can be utilized in the form of a gargle to fight off tonsillitis. Simply boil a couple of teaspoons of fenugreek seeds in a pan of water for about ten minutes, strain, let it cool down to the desirable temperature and use it.
  • Alum gargle: Hydrated potassium aluminum sulfate, more commonly known as alum has been used as a water purifier as well as a topical antiseptic for centuries, before they were replaced by modern water filtration systems and the more soothing after shave balms. However, its potent antibacterial properties remain unchanged and it can be added to warm water to create an antiseptic gargle to cure tonsillitis. Simply take some alum (available at your local grocery or health food store) and grind it into a fine powder. Mix two teaspoons of this powder into a glass of warmer than lukewarm water and have the afflicted person gargle with it for up to two times a day.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) gargle: Apple cider vinegar (ACV) has potent anti-microbial properties that can be utilized in the form of a gargle. To make it effective the gargle water should be about 50% ACV. If the sufferer finds that to be a bit too strong, then it may be diluted a bit further. However, before administering this treatment, you need to make sure that the sufferer is not allergic to it. To find that out, simply apply a bit of diluted ACV on an unblemished part of the sufferer’s skin. There will be a minor stinging sensation, which should go away in a few seconds. However, if the sufferer feels a persistent burn, he may be allergic to it and should implement an alternate treatment. For best results, use organic ACV that has the “mother of vinegar” inside the bottle.

  1. Andrographis

Andrographis paniculata more commonly known as Indian Echinacea is native to India and Sri Lanka and the juice of this plant has documented anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties that can help fight tonsillitis. The use of this plant for treating sore throat and upper-respiratory infection has been mentioned even in Ayurveda, the ancient treatise of traditional Indian medicine.

Andrographis is available at your local health food store either in a tea form or as a supplement. You can make a tea and drink it twice daily. If you use the supplement, the recommended daily dosage is 1200 mg.

  1. Chamomile Tea

Besides being extremely soothing, chamomile tea also has mild anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties that can help fight tonsillitis, especially at its inception. Simply prepare chamomile tea as you normally would and drink it twice a day. Adding a teaspoon of honey and a slice of lime not only enhances the taste, but also increases the potency of the treatment.

  1. Holy Basil

Holy basil, a variant of the traditional basil herb that grows in abundance in the Indian sub-continent (where it is known as tulsi) and it has well-documented anti-microbial properties, which can be very useful in combating tonsillitis. The benefits of holy basil have been documented in Ayurveda as well.

When it comes to using holy basil to cure the common cold or any other internal bacterial or viral affliction, one is usually asked to chew on some leaves with a teaspoon of honey or some blackstrap molasses. However, with the severe pain and swelling of tonsillitis, this may not be a viable option because the swallowing is extremely difficult for the affected person.

Hence as an alternative, you can boil about six holy basil leaves in a glass of milk, strain, let it cool down to a warmer than lukewarm stage and have the sufferer drink it a couple of times a day. At a time when he may be finding it next to impossible to consume solid food, milk can be an important source of nutrition, while the holy basil fights the infection.

  1. Turmeric

Besides using turmeric to prepare a gargle, consuming turmeric will help the person fight off tonsillitis from the inside. The easiest way to do this in most circumstances would be to eat more Indian food, as almost all curries use turmeric as one of the key ingredients to prepare the base. However, eating solid food may not be an option for someone suffering from severe tonsillitis, hence there are other ways the sufferer can get more turmeric in their system.

Simply add a teaspoon of turmeric powder to a glass of lukewarm milk and ask the person to drink it right before he goes to bed. People who are lactose intolerant may drink it with a glass of soy milk or even water!

  1. Slippery Elm

The inner bark of the slippery elm plant has a gel-like substance called mucilage, which has documented anti-inflammatory properties. If used properly, it can help cure inflamed tonsils and lymph nodes that are caused by tonsillitis.

There are a few ways you can use slippery elm to treat tonsillitis:

  • Tea: Take a one teaspoon of the inner bark of the slippery elm plant (available at your local health food store) and boil it in two cups of water. Keep boiling it till half of the water evaporates. Turn off the heat and let it simmer, till the liquid reaches a warmer than lukewarm stage. Strain and have the sufferer drink this twice a day for a couple of days.
  • Lozenge: Many health food stores carry slippery elm lozenges. Feel free to get some for the sufferer and have her take them as often as he would like!
  • Tonic: You can also create a tonic using the powdered bark of slippery elm. To make this you will need the following ingredients:
    • Powdered inner bark of the slipper elm tree (3 teaspoons)
    • Powdered cayenne pepper (1 teaspoon): This is useful because cayenne pepper contains the enzyme capsaicin, which has documented analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
    • Honey (2 teaspoons)
    • Warm water (4 teaspoons)

Simply mix all the ingredients together and have the afflicted person take one teaspoon of the mixture every couple of hours for about three days.

  1. Serrapeptase Supplements

Serrapeptase is an enzyme that destroys protein, hence it is also known as a proteolytic enzyme. These occur naturally in the digestive systems of silkworms and it is available at your local pharmacy or health food store as a supplement.

The reason why this works is that the bacteria or virus are protein-based unicellular organisms and the serrapeptase can simply digest them so they cannot harm you further. However, over-indulging in this supplement can carry certain health risks, hence you should refer to the product packaging or consult your pharmacist to determine the proper dosage.

  1. OTC Medications

An onset of tonsillitis is usually associated with fever, which needs to be treated as well, before the sufferer can recover completely. There are several over the counter (OTC) medications that can help you achieve that, such as ibuprofen (Brand Name: Advil, Children’s Motrin etc) or acetaminophen (Brand Name: Tylenol).

  1. Lozenges

Your local pharmacy has several sore-throat lozenges that the afflicted person can suck on. However, they only provide temporary relief from the pain and discomfort by numbing the area and these lozenges should be used in conjunction with the other home remedies mentioned in this article.

  1. Popsicles

This article has been favoring hot beverages so far, mainly because the heat makes life difficult for the microorganisms that are causing tonsillitis. However, extreme cold can also help provide you with some welcome relief, by temporarily numbing the area. Moreover, they help the afflicted person to stay hydrated as well! Kindly allow the person suffering from tonsillitis to indulge themselves with as many popsicles as they can possibly devour.


As stated earlier, home remedies are effective for treating most cases of tonsillitis. However, there may be certain cases where the home remedies may not be effective, such as:

  • If the home remedies are started after the affliction has reached an advanced stage.
  • The afflicted person keeps suffering from repeated bouts of tonsillitis.

When a medical professional is consulted, they are most likely to suggest the following:

  1. Antibiotics

Just to re-instate a point made earlier, antibiotics should only be used if the home remedies do not work. This is because:

  • Antibiotics have certain unpleasant side effects such as:
    • Stomach cramps.
    • Diarrhea or constipation.
    • Skin rashes.
    • General malaise.
  • If antibiotics are administered too often, it will be difficult to eliminate microbes using the same in the future. This phenomenon is known as antibiotic resistance.

Penicillin is the most commonly suggested antibiotic for bacterial tonsillitis. The usual course is for 10 days. The schedule suggested by your doctor should be followed religiously, even if it seems as if the sufferer has recovered completely before that. This is because if the course is not completed, then the dormant microbes may cause more severe afflictions later on such as rheumatic fever or may spread to a different part of the body, such as the kidneys.

If the sufferer is allergic to penicillin or if you see any allergic reactions in the person taking the medication, do not hesitate to contact the doctor immediately, so that he may suggest an alternative, such as erythromycin.

  1. Surgery

The surgical procedure to remove tonsils is known as tonsillectomy. This is only prescribed as a last resort when either the following happens:

  • The patient fails to respond to antibiotic treatments.
  • If the patient has difficulty breathing.
  • If the patient is unable to swallow any solid food.
  • The patient starts suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.
  • If the patient is suffering from frequent onsets of tonsillitis.

The following frequency is determined as a frequent onset of tonsillitis:

  • If the patient has seven or more episodes of tonsillitis in the current year.
  • If the patient has at least four episodes of tonsillitis a year for two preceding years.
  • If the patient has at least three episodes of tonsillitis for three years before the current year.

Tonsillectomy is usually an outpatient procedure, which means that unless there are some unforeseen complications from the surgery, the afflicted person can go home the day of the surgery. However, the recommended post-op care should be administered diligently at home. Your surgeon will make you aware of the same.

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