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What Does Tonsillitis Look Like?

You may have heard the terms tonsillitis and strep throat used interchangeably, but this is not accurate. You can have tonsillitis without having strep throat. Tonsillitis may be caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria, which is responsible for strep throat, but you could also get tonsillitis from other bacteria and viruses. Keep reading to learn more about tonsillitis.


The most common symptoms of tonsillitis include:

Less common symptoms can include:


Tonsillitis is most often caused by common viruses, but bacterial infections can also be the cause. The most common bacterium causing tonsillitis is Streptococcus pyogenes (group A streptococcus), the bacterium that causes strep throat. Moreover, other strains of strep and other bacteria also may cause tonsillitis.

Risk factors

Risk factors for tonsillitis and strep throat include:

  • Young age. Tonsillitis caused by bacteria is most common in children ages 5 to 15.
  • Frequent exposure to other people. Young children in school or day care are frequently exposed to germs.
  • Time of year. Strep throat is most common in the fall and early spring.
  • You can only have tonsillitis if you have tonsils.

How long tonsillitis lasts?

Symptoms will usually go away after 3 to 4 days. Tonsillitis isn't contagious but the infections that cause it are. In order to stop these infections from spreading:

  • stay off work or keep your child at home until you or your child feels better
  • use tissues when you cough or sneeze and throw them away after
  • wash your hands after coughing or sneezing

When should you see a doctor?

You may not need to see a doctor for tonsillitis. In most cases, symptoms will resolve within a few days of home care. Rest, drinking warm liquids, or sucking on throat lozenges should help. You may need to see a doctor, however, if:

  • symptoms last longer than four days and show no signs of improvement or have gotten worse
  • you have severe symptoms, such as a fever over 102.6°F (39.2°C) or difficulty breathing or drinking
  • intense pain that won’t subside
  • you have had several cases of tonsillitis or strep throat in the past year

Treatments for Tonsillitis

Treatment for tonsillitis will depend in part on the cause. To determine the cause, your doctor may perform a rapid strep test or throat swab culture. In some cases, the physical findings are convincing enough to diagnose a probable bacterial infection. In these cases, antibiotics may be prescribed without performing a rapid strep test. If tests reveal bacteria, treatment will consist of antibiotics to cure the infection. Antibiotics may be given as a single shot or taken 10 days by mouth. Although symptoms will likely improve within two or three days after starting the antibiotic, it's crucial to take all of the medication your doctor prescribes to make sure the bacteria are gone. Some people need to take a second course of antibiotics to cure the infection.

Tonsillitis and strep throat are both contagious, so avoid being around other people while you’re sick, if possible. With home remedies and lots of rest, your sore throat should clear up in a few days. But, make sure to see your doctor if your symptoms are extreme or persist for a long time.