The tonsils are part of your body's system to fight infections. These two almond-shaped balls of tissue are situated towards the back of your mouth and on either side of your throat. The tonsils play an important role as part of your body's immune system, helping to fight off viral and bacterial infections before they reach the respiratory tract and other parts of the body. The tonsils contain certain cells that trap any infection entering your body. At times however, the tonsils itself may get infected by the very same germs that it works to resist. When this happens the tonsils get swollen and inflamed causing pain and discomfort. In some cases, the tonsils may show white spots covering the surface coating indicating an infection.

Tonsillitis Picture

Referred to as tonsillitis, infected tonsils can affect adults, but the condition is more prevalent in children. School-going children are especially prone to infections transmitted via the nose and mouth and tend to contract tonsillitis easily. Tonsillitis can be acute and it can recur over time and turn chronic as well. A patient's history with tonsillitis will determine the type of treatment required. Removing the tonsils surgically as part of the treatment can make a person more susceptible to infections, which is why it is reserved as a last resort.

Tonsillitis is a condition that tends to resolve without the need for medical intervention. In most cases, the tonsils will get better with self-care and home remedies and do not require any emergency treatment.

Symptoms of Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis symptoms include:

  • Swollen tonsils
  • A coating on the tonsils that may be yellow or grey in color
  • The area surrounding the tonsils looks red and inflamed
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Difficulty while swallowing
  • Ear pain
  • Fever and chills
  • Headaches
  • Bad breath
  • Strep throat / sore throat
  • Loss of voice / change in voice
  • Jaw and throat feel tender to the touch
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Cold and cough
  • Nasal congestion and runny nose
  • Stomach pain
  • Redness of the eyes

If you suspect you have tonsillitis, visit your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment for the condition. Your doctor will conduct a physical exam and check your mouth and throat for signs of inflammation, redness, white spots on the tonsils and swollen lymph nodes. You may also be required to do a blood test, a swab culture of the throat, a strep test and / or a test for mononucleosis.

In acute cases of tonsillitis, the following symptoms may be experienced:

  • Airways get blocked due to excessive swelling of the tonsils
  • Dehydration and even drinking is difficult due to the swelling
  • Throat abscesses
  • Bacterial pharyngitis
  • Kidney failure
  • Cardiovascular disorders
  • Rheumatic fever

Tonsillitis in children can be especially distressing. If you or your children exhibit any of the following symptoms contact your doctor immediately:

  • High fever
  • Pus in the throat
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • A rash around the throat
  • Excessive drooling (in younger children)
  • Swollen lymph glands in the neck

Causes of Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is generally caused by a viral or bacterial infection. For example, the bacteria that cause sore throat or strep throat can also cause tonsillitis to develop. The Epstein Barr virus that causes mononucleosis is another common cause of tonsillitis. The bacteria or virus are transmitted through droplets in the air or through social contact. If a person who has tonsillitis comes in contact with you or sneezes around you, there are greater chances of you contracting the illness as well.  Tonsillitis is therefore extremely contagious and care has to be taken to maintain high levels of hygiene to prevent contracting the illness.

Tonsillitis can also be caused by allergens from certain foods. Items such as artificially colored sweets, preservative and additives used in processed foods, cold drinks, and ice cream can often trigger tonsillitis. Eating too much sugary, fatty and over-processed food can also lead to tonsillitis.

Environmental factors such extremely cold and damp weather or sharp changes in temperature can bring about an attack of tonsillitis as well. The body's immunity is lowered by such factors and the tonsils become susceptible to being infected by the very infections they are fighting.

A genetic tendency to tonsillitis is another important cause. Recurrent or chronic tonsillitis tends to affect children and adults who have a history of tonsillitis in the family.

Home Remedies for Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is generally treated by over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. In addition to this, the best course of action for swollen tonsils would be the traditional and probably most widely used of all home remedies, the salt water gargle; this helps to ease the throat pain and reduce the swelling. Salt water helps in cleaning out the mouth and throat and prevents the build up of further infection on the surface of the tonsils.

Other popular natural treatments for tonsillitis include:

  • Lime is one of the most popular natural remedies for tonsillitis. Mix fresh lime juice in warm water with honey and salt and sip on this combination for pain relief from swollen tonsils.
  • Boil milk and add a pinch of turmeric powder and black pepper powder. Drink this concoction before sleeping for a minimum of three nights in a row for an effective inflamed tonsils remedy.
  • Drink freshly squeezed beetroot, carrot, or cucumber juice daily to boost your body's immune system and fight the infection more efficiently. You can have these juices individually or mix them together for the best results.
  • Boil fenugreek seeds in water for half an hour. Cool and strain and use this water to gargle with. Fenugreek has antibacterial properties that make it an excellent cure for tonsillitis.
  • Boil fresh figs and grind them into a paste. Apply this paste on the external area of the throat to cool down a rash and redness of the throat and provide pain relief.
  • Chamomile tea mixed with lemon and honey is an age-old natural remedy for tonsillitis. The chamomile acts as a relaxant and reduces stress and anxiety caused by tonsillitis along with treating symptoms of the condition such as pain and soreness.  
  • Apply alum powder on the surface of the tonsils or gargle with alum and water. These are effective home remedies for tonsillitis that can reduce inflammation and prevent further infections.

Since tonsillitis is a self-limiting condition and tends to resolve itself, using home remedies for pain relief is the logical option. However, if you have tried treating tonsillitis at home and the pain has not reduced at all after a few days, consult your doctor for a course of medication. Tonsillitis caused by bacterial infections requires a course of antibiotics that your doctor can prescribe. Chronic tonsillitis may not respond well to home remedies and may require more drastic measures such as surgery or tonsillectomy.

Diet for Tonsillitis

If you suffer from tonsillitis, it is suggested that you switch to a liquid only diet for a few days. Ideally a fruit juice fast for three to five days can help boost immunity and fight off any infection. Drink only orange juice and water until the painful symptoms subside.

After this, you can move on to an all fruit diet for the next few days before slowly introducing solids back into your daily meal plan. Ensure that your meals are balanced with a healthy combination of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and nuts to boost the body's immunity after the infection.

Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and to keep the throat moistened and free from itching. However, avoid carbonated drinks and too much hot tea and coffee as these can aggravate the condition.

A sore throat can be soothed with ice cream and popsicles. While this may sound strange, ice cream can calm a sore throat and also be swallowed easily. Children and adults who have undergone a tonsillectomy are made to eat ice cream during their recovery period.

You need to avoid foods that are very sour or spicy when suffering from tonsillitis. Items such as hot sauces, yogurt, sour cream, and fried foods irritate the throat and can cause more inflammation and pain.


  1. Aggarwal BB, Sundaram C, Malani N, Ichikawa H. Curcumin: the Indian solid gold. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;595:1-75. Review. PubMed PMID: 17569205.

Tonsillitis Treatments - more information
Tonsillitis - Frequently asked questions
13 Tonsillitis remedies suggested by our users
salt for tonsils
suggested by Data on Thursday, May 22, 2008

Alright, I tried all the remedies posted. Pretty good results. Lemon was great. But they were all a good relief... only for after a little while to be back in pain. But I decided to take a Q-tip and apply salt directly on my tonsils. Within a matter of minutes most of the pain was gone and the pussy things went down and were not emitting any pus like they were. It was great. Just put salt directly on the tonsil with a q-tip. GREAT!

cider vinegar and honey
suggested by Nikki on Friday, April 25, 2008

At the first sign of swollen tonsils, Put one teaspoon of cider vinegar into a cup of hot water and mix with one spoonful of honey and drink regularly as you can. Also gargle with cider vinegar and warm water before bed. It might smell and taste a bit vile at first but it's a wonderful remedy and I swear by it...

suggested by priti on Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Put one tablet of disprin in warm water and gargle. The tonsils will subside in 2 days.

betadine gargle
suggested by lal on Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Betadine gargle for 15 sec (3tmes a day) will reduce it. Note : do not continue for 10 days

Tonsillitis Treatments. More...