How Long Can You Recover from Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is a common infection of the tonsils, caused by virus or bacteria. How long will it last and how to help? Learn the answers here.

Tonsils are lymphoid tissues, which are present on both sides of the pharynx or throat. They form a part of immune system of the body but are often atrophied in adults. They may get infected from bacteria or viruses and result in tonsillitis. The symptoms of tonsillitis are red and swollen tonsils containing pus, sore throat, headache, fever, difficulty swallowing, laryngitis, and swelling of glands in neck and jaw. What is its duration?

How Long Does Tonsillitis Last?

There are 2 kinds of tonsillitis: bacterial and viral. Although different microorganisms cause them, both of them produce nasty signs and symptoms and if you get tonsillitis once, you won’t look forward to get another bout.

The mode of spread of tonsillitis is either by air droplets or by being in contact with a person who is infected, for instance by kissing an infected person. Sneezing and coughing can easily pass viral tonsillitis; hence, if your kid is having the infection, ensure that they clean their hands often and throw away dirty tissues so as to prevent the spread of infection to other family members.

How Long Does Viral Tonsillitis Last?

Various types of infections cause viral tonsillitis, common ones include laryngitis, influenza, herpes simplex, Epstein-Barr and croup. As happens with other viral infections, the incubation period which is the period from initial exposure to the virus to onset of actual symptoms varies greatly, but once there is appearance of symptoms, your body’s immune system will work against the virus and the illness will get better in a few days time.

How Long Does Bacterial Tonsillitis Last?

The cause of bacterial tonsillitis, also referred to as Strep Throat is bacterium Streptococcus A. Symptoms usually appear 2-7 days after getting infected. After starting antibiotics, symptoms often disappear after around 5 days, though, in some people, the symptoms may persist for 3-4 weeks in case the initial course of antibiotics has no effect.

How long does tonsillitis last in adults? In majority of the adults, viral tonsillitis get better in a few days time; however, symptoms of bacterial tonsillitis may take longer to disappear, especially if antibiotics are not started immediately after the appearance of symptoms.

Tonsillitis is common in children and symptoms take about a week to get better. Previously, tonsil removal surgery was routinely done in children who had repeated episodes of tonsillitis. However, nowadays, due to change in medical policy, this surgery is not done as frequently as was done earlier.

A throat swab can help in the diagnosis of tonsillitis. It also helps to find out whether a virus or bacterium is a cause of the illness. In case the cause is bacterial, you may be prescribed antibiotics, though other drugs to help relieve symptoms may also be offered.

When Should I Visit a Physician?

Most of the individuals who suffer from tonsillitis recover fully with minimum medical care. Individuals with bacterial tonsillitis requiring antibiotics should visit a physician, especially since differentiating bacterial from viral tonsillitis is difficult simply on the basis of symptoms. Visit your physician immediately if you develop any of the below mentioned symptoms:

  • Difficulty in swallowing or severe pain in tonsils
  • Not able to eat, take medicines, or drink; not able to control secretions
  • Not able to open the mouth (a condition referred to as trismus)
  • Redness or swelling of neck
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Change of voice, such as speech is muffled or “hot potato” voice (when a person speaks as if there is a hot object present in mouth)

In some cases, people suffering from tonsillitis may develop complications including blockage of airways from tonsils that are severely swollen, a peritonsillar abscess (collection of pus in tissues around tonsils) or spread of infection of tonsils into neck. Very rarely, patients who have untreated strep throat may develop rheumatic fever.

These complications are serious and some of them such as drooling, difficulty in breathing or swelling of throat can be potentially life threatening. You should call 911 or visit emergency immediately.

How to Deal with Tonsillitis

After discussing “How long does tonsillitis last?” let’s discuss its treatment.

Self-Help

In mild cases of tonsillitis, you can take the following measures to feel better.

  • Take plenty of rest.
  • Make sure to drink lots of fluids, particularly if you have fever.
  • Gargle with warm water with a pinch of salt. This helps in easing throat pain.
  • Eating cold desserts including ice lollies or sucking on throat lozenges will ease your throat pain.
  • You can take OTC medicines such as paracetamol or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen to relieve pain. Make sure to read the leaflet containing patient information that comes with the medicine.

Medicines

Usually antibiotics are not prescribed for tonsillitis as many cases are caused by viral infections. However, in some cases your physician may recommend antibiotics. They may give them in case they think you suffer from bacterial tonsillitis and if you have a severe infection and have a raised risk of suffering from serious complications.

They may also give you a prescription for an antibiotic that has to be taken only in case your symptoms get worse or are not getting better by certain time.

The usual antibiotic prescribed for tonsillitis is penicillin and you will be offered a 10-day course of the drug. If you have an allergy to the drug, you should tell your physician.

You should complete your antibiotics, even if your symptoms begin to improve. This helps in killing all the bacteria from your body.

Surgery

You may be referred to an ENT (ear, nose and throat) surgeon by your physician, if they think that your tonsils require removal. The surgery to remove tonsils is referred to as tonsillectomy.

Tonsillectomy is only suggested in the following cases:

  • If you are having frequent bouts of tonsillitis and/or it is interfering with any of your normal functions, for example breathing
  • If you had bouts of tonsillitis greater than 7 times in past year
  • If you had bouts of tonsillitis 5 times or greater than that in each of last 2 years
  • If you had bouts of tonsillitis 3 times or greater than that in each of last 3 years

Tonsillectomy may also be recommended in case you are having quinsy (peritonsillar abscess).

In children, your physician may recommend to wait for some time and see if frequency of tonsillitis improves before considering tonsillectomy. It is seen that as children get older, the frequency of tonsillitis becomes less; hence, surgery is often not required as like all surgeries it is also associated with risks.

Although tonsillectomy can help in preventing tonsillitis, it is not a guarantee to the fact that you won’t suffer from sore throat in future.

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