Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Rhianna McClymont

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Tonsillitis is an infection, commonly caused by a virus, that affects the tonsils in your throat. It can also be caused by a bacterial infection, like strep throat.

What is tonsillitis?

Your tonsils are part of your immune system. When you catch a cold or flu, your tonsils help your body fight the infection. If you have tonsillitis, your tonsils swell up and get sore. You’ll probably feel fluey or like you have a cold.

What causes tonsillitis?

You can get tonsillitis from a common virus like a cold, but a bacterial infection could also be the cause. The most common bacteria to cause tonsillitis is the same type that causes strep throat.

What are the symptoms of tonsillitis?

The main symptom is having swollen, red tonsils. You may be able to see this in a mirror. Other key symptoms include: 

With more severe tonsillitis, you might also have:

  • Swollen glands in your neck

  • White spots filled with pus on your tonsils

  • Smelly breath

Is tonsillitis contagious?

While tonsillitis itself isn’t contagious, you can still spread the viruses or bacteria that have caused it. The infection is usually spread through droplets from coughing or sneezing or through touching contaminated surfaces.

How long you’re contagious depends on the cause of your tonsillitis. You’re usually contagious a couple of days before you develop symptoms and you might be contagious up until your symptoms go away.

If you or your child has tonsillitis, the recommended advice is to stay home and rest. The following steps will help to prevent you from spreading the infection:

  • Stay home from work or school until the symptoms get better

  • Use tissues to catch coughs or sneezes, and flush them in the toilet or throw them away straight away

  • Wash your hands often – especially after you’ve coughed or sneezed

How is tonsillitis treated?

If you’re worried that you may have tonsillitis, speak to a doctor. If you have bacterial tonsillitis, a doctor might prescribe antibiotics. A doctor can try and distinguish whether it’s more likely to be bacterial or viral tonsillitis. 

Unfortunately, there isn’t a treatment for viral tonsillitis, but there are self-care steps you can take to recover more quickly:

  • Get lots of rest while you have tonsillitis symptoms

  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water

  • Try cool drinks or even ice lollies to soothe your sore throat

  • Suck lozenges or use throat spray

  • Gargle with warm salt water (though children should avoid doing this, in case they swallow it)

  • Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease the pain

When should I talk to a doctor?

If you have white spots on your tonsils or your throat is so sore that it’s hard to swallow food or drink, speak to a doctor.

You should also speak to a doctor if you’ve had tonsillitis symptoms for longer than 4 days. They might want to do a swab test to check for bacterial tonsillitis or a blood test to check for glandular fever.

How can Livi help?

A Livi doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms. They’ll make an individual assessment, recommend a treatment or refer you to a specialist if needed.


Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Lead GP at Livi Dr Rhianna McClymont
Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi