Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

At-home care

Whether tonsillitis is caused by a viral or bacterial infection, at-home care strategies can make your child more comfortable and promote better recovery.

If a virus is the expected cause of tonsillitis, these strategies are the only treatment. Your doctor won't prescribe antibiotics. Your child will likely be better within seven to 10 days.

At-home care strategies to use during the recovery time include the following:

  • Encourage rest. Encourage your child to get plenty of sleep and to rest his or her voice.
  • Provide adequate fluids. Give your child plenty of water to keep the throat moist and prevent dehydration.
  • Provide comforting foods and beverage. Warm liquids — broth, caffeine-free tea or warm water with honey — and cold treats like ice pops can soothe a sore throat.
  • Prepare a saltwater gargle. If your child can gargle, a saltwater gargle of 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) of table salt to 8 ounces (237 milliliters) of warm water can help soothe a sore throat. Have your child gargle the solution and then spit it out.
  • Humidify the air. Use a cool-air humidifier to eliminate dry air that may further irritate a sore throat, or sit with your child for several minutes in a steamy bathroom.
  • Offer lozenges. Children older than age 4 can suck on lozenges to relieve a sore throat.
  • Avoid irritants. Keep your home free from cigarette smoke and cleaning products that can irritate the throat.
  • Treat pain and fever. Talk to your doctor about using ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) to minimize throat pain and control a fever. Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Though aspirin is approved for use in children older than age 2, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. This is because aspirin has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition, in such children.

Antibiotics

If tonsillitis is caused by a bacterial infection, your doctor will prescribe a course of antibiotics. Penicillin taken by mouth for 10 days is the most common antibiotic treatment prescribed for tonsillitis caused by group A streptococcus. If your child is allergic to penicillin, your doctor will prescribe an alternative antibiotic.

Your child must take the full course of antibiotics as prescribed even if the symptoms go away completely. Failure to take all of the medication as directed may result in the infection worsening or spreading to other parts of the body. Not completing the full course of antibiotics can, in particular, increase your child's risk of rheumatic fever and serious kidney inflammation.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about what to do if you forget to give your child a dose.

Surgery

Surgery to remove tonsils (tonsillectomy) may be used to treat frequently recurring tonsillitis, chronic tonsillitis or bacterial tonsillitis that doesn't respond to antibiotic treatment. Frequent tonsillitis is generally defined as:

  • More than seven episodes in one year
  • More than five episodes a year in each of the preceding two years
  • More than three episodes a year in each of the preceding three years

A tonsillectomy may also be performed if tonsillitis results in difficult-to-manage complications, such as:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Swallowing difficulty, especially meats and other chunky foods
  • An abscess that doesn't improve with antibiotic treatment

Tonsillectomy is usually done as a one-day surgery, unless your child is very young. That means your child should be able to go home the day of the surgery. A complete recovery usually takes seven to 14 days.

Aug. 04, 2012