What are the treatments for tonsillitis?

The treatment you receive depends on the infection’s cause. While the symptoms of viral tonsillitis and bacterial tonsillitis can be similar, their treatments are different.

What is the treatment for strep throat?

Strep throat (tonsillitis caused by bacteria) is treated with an antibiotic medication. Antibiotics require a prescription from your doctor. You usually take antibiotics orally (by mouth) for about 10 days. The most common antibiotics for strep throat are:

  • Penicillin
  • Clindamycin
  • Cephalosporin

It is very important to follow your doctor’s instructions and take the full course of antibiotics, even if you are feeling better after a couple of days. You must finish the antibiotics so the infection doesn’t come back, get worse, or spread to another part of your body.

What are the side effects of the treatment for strep throat?

Side effects from antibiotics used to treat bacterial tonsillitis (strep throat) include:

What is the treatment for viral tonsillitis?

The antibiotics used to treat strep throat (bacterial tonsillitis) will not work on tonsillitis caused by a viral infection. To relieve the symptoms of viral tonsillitis, your doctor will recommend:

  • Plenty of rest
  • Fluids to stay hydrated
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • Throat lozenges

What are the complications associated with tonsillitis?

Complications from tonsillitis are usually associated with strep throat and the streptococcal bacteria. They include:

  • Chronic tonsillitis: People who have tonsillitis more than 7 times a year may have chronic tonsillitis. Doctors may recommend surgery to remove the tonsils, especially if you are snoring or having trouble sleeping at night. This surgery is called tonsillectomy.
  • Scarlet fever: Strep throat can progress into scarlet fever, causing a red rash and fever. Scarlet fever occurs more often in children than adults, but it is not common.
  • Peritonsillar abscess: In severe cases of tonsillitis, an abscess (a collection of pus) can form around the tonsil. Peritonsillar abscesses occur more often in adults and adolescents than in children. Doctors often recommend surgery to drain the abscess.
  • Rheumatic fever: Although rare, rheumatic fever can occur if strep throat is not treated or you don’t complete the full course of antibiotics. Rheumatic fever occurs in children more often than adults. It can lead to permanent heart damage.
  • Spread of infection: When left untreated, streptococcal bacteria can spread from the throat to the middle ear, sinuses, or other parts of the body. This infection can lead to complications such as sinusitis, glomerulonephritis, or necrotizing fasciitis.

What can I do to help relieve symptoms of tonsillitis?

To relieve the symptoms of viral and bacterial tonsillitis, you can:

  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Drink warm liquids, like tea, apple cider or broth.
  • Gargle with warm salt water.
  • Try throat lozenges.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/11/2019.


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