Tonsillitis is a literal pain in the neck. Swollen and inflamed tonsils can make it hard to swallow or even breathe. And the idea of eating or drinking? It can be too much to bear.
The good news is that, in most cases, symptoms don’t last long and can be treated with home remedies. It’s also possible to enjoy food and beverages that won’t irritate sore throats and tonsils.
Below, we share how to reduce tonsil swelling and discomfort with home treatments, food and beverages – and what to do if nothing seems to work.
Tonsillitis home remedies for children and adults
If a sore throat or other tonsillitis symptoms are causing you or your little one discomfort, there are a range of tonsillitis self-care options you can try.
But if symptoms don’t get better in a few days or if they include a high fever, make a doctor’s appointment – you may need a prescription for antibiotics or another treatment such as surgery.
1. Stay home and get plenty of sleep
Getting enough sleep is a home remedy for practically every illness. There’s a reason for that – sleep boosts your immune system. And when you’re asleep, your body is better able to focus its energy on helping you get better.
There’s another reason to stay home and rest. Tonsillitis is caused by contagious viruses and bacteria. By staying home, you can stop illnesses like the cold and flu from spreading. And if you’re caring for someone with tonsillitis, make sure to wash your hands frequently and don’t share utensils, food or drinks. Getting a flu shot can help too.
2. Gargle with saltwater
If you or your child have tonsillitis, salt water can reduce swelling and discomfort. Here’s how to do it:
- Add 1 teaspoon salt to 8 ounces of warm water.
- Gargle for 1-2 minutes.
- Repeat every hour.
It can be tricky for younger kids to gargle – so this method is best if they’re 8 years old or older.
3. Use a cool-mist humidifier
Dry air can irritate a sore throat. A humidifier adds moisture to the air and can make breathing more comfortable. Plus, leaving the device on at night can make it easier to sleep. There are many humidifier options, but cool-mist humidifiers tend to work best for people with tonsillitis.
If you don’t have a humidifier, try a hot shower instead – inhaling the warm steam can open up your airway so it’s easier to breathe.
4. Take over-the-counter medicines for tonsillitis
Over-the-counter medications can help with the pain, swelling and inflammation that usually accompanies tonsillitis. But not all medications are safe for people of all ages, and some medications can be dangerous when taken together. So, make sure to read all the instructions that come with the medicine and take the correct dose.
Here are a few more things to keep in mind when treating tonsillitis with over-the-counter medicines:
- Pain relievers – Acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve) can be good options to reduce inflammation or pain. You should never give aspirin to people under 20 years old.
- Cold and flu medicines – Cold and flu viruses are common causes for tonsillitis. So, cold and flu medicines can be effective when you have tonsillitis. But it may not be safe to take both cold or flu medicine, and a separate Tylenol since too much acetaminophen can be dangerous.
- Lozenges (cough drops) – There are many varieties of lozenges available with different formulations of active ingredients to soothe your throat including antiseptics, menthol and pain relievers. Note that cough drops aren’t safe for little ones who are younger than 4 years old. But even if your child is in elementary school, it’s best to keep an eye on them if they have one in their mouth.
- Throat spray – Some throat sprays are appropriate for kids as young as two years old. The catch is that most kids don’t like to use throat sprays. If your child is not a fan, don’t force them. Instead, try a different treatment option.
We can help you figure out which medicines or combination of medicines are safe for you or your kiddo to take – just call the CareLine nurse line at 612-339-3663 or 800-551-0859 any time, day or night.
5. Avoid cigarette smoke
Staying away from cigarette smoke can help prevent tonsillitis, as well as help you heal faster. Cigarette smoke weakens the immune system, making it more likely that you’ll get infections – such as those that cause tonsillitis. Smoke also irritates the tonsils, making it more likely you’ll have repeat cases of tonsillitis and complications that require surgery.
Quitting smoking is a self-care tip that you can find on many lists – and the benefits go far beyond healthier tonsils. For starters, quitting helps reduce your chance of heart disease and many types of cancers. But we know it’s not easy to quit. If you’d like help, talk to your doctor.
What to eat and drink with tonsillitis
Tonsillitis throat pain can make eating so uncomfortable that it’s hard to want to eat or drink. As a parent, it can be tough when your child refuses all food and beverages. Try to offer food and beverages that soothe, rather than irritate, their throat (see below for some ideas).
It’s also a good idea to be on the lookout for signs of dehydration such as dark-colored urine, sluggishness, and sunken eyes or cheeks. If you think your child may be dehydrated, contact the CareLine nurse line at 612-339-3663 or 800-551-0859.
Below, we answer common questions about eating and drinking when you have tonsillitis.
Are warm liquids good for tonsillitis?
Yes. Warm liquids can soothe throat pain and be good sources of nutrients if you or your child find eating uncomfortable.
When you have tonsillitis, tea with honey can help with throat pain. Honey coats the throat and helps reduce irritation and inflammation. Other tasty tea additions with health benefits include lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.
Soups and broths also help coat and soothe a sore throat. Bone broth is especially good because it contains protein and other nutrients your body needs to get healthy.
Not a fan of hot liquids? Go to the other temperature extreme. Some people opt for icy cold beverages for tonsillitis because they can be easier to swallow.
Are frozen foods like popsicles good for tonsillitis?
Yes, this is true. It’s not just a rumor spread by popsicle-loving children. Ice-cold foods like popsicles, ice cream, frozen yogurt and smoothies can numb the throat, reduce pain and make kids (and adults) more comfortable.
While a balanced diet is extremely important to overall health, it’s okay to break rules about no dessert before dinner when you or your kiddo are suffering through tonsillitis. Just make sure you get your eating habits back on track once everyone has recovered.
Is juice good for tonsillitis?
Most kids like juice and would happily drink it all day long. But because juice is high in sugar, pediatricians usually recommend a daily limit of a cup or less, depending on your child’s age.
Just like with popsicles, it’s okay to bend the rules if your kiddo has tonsillitis. If they don’t want to eat, drinking juice can provide an energy boost while keeping them hydrated. Plus, if the juice is super cold, it can help numb the throat and make them more comfortable.
But you’ll want to pay attention to the types of juice you offer them. Avoid acidic options like orange juice, pineapple juice and lemonade since they can irritate the throat. Apple, pear and peach juices are good alternatives because they have low acidity.
If your child is running a fever or you’re worried about dehydration, consider offering an electrolyte replacement beverage like Pedialyte or Gatorade.
Are hard foods good for tonsillitis?
No. Foods that are hard or have sharp edges can irritate the throat. So pass on chips, cereal, toast and raw veggies. Instead, opt for softer foods like tortillas, eggs, yogurt and Jell-O.
Are spicy foods good for tonsillitis?
No. Even if you taste-test hot sauce for fun, it’s a good idea to avoid spicy foods when you have tonsillitis. Foods like chilies and hot sauces can irritate infected tonsils and make them feel worse. So, it’s best to eat bland food when you have tonsillitis.
What if tonsillitis doesn’t go away with home treatments
Home remedies for tonsillitis are usually enough to help people quickly recover from tonsillitis. But there are times when additional treatment may be necessary.
Antibiotics for bacterial infections
If tonsillitis is caused by bacteria (such as the one that causes strep throat), you’ll likely need to take antibiotics for it to go away. Signs that it may be bacterial tonsillitis include a fever and a sore throat that doesn’t start to improve within a few days.
To find out if you or your child need antibiotics, make an appointment with your primary care doctor.
During the appointment, your doctor may do a physical examination to confirm that it’s tonsillitis. They’ll also do a bacteria culture test to see if the infection is viral or bacterial. If the test is positive, you’ll need antibiotics for a bacterial infection. If you test negative, your tonsillitis comes from a viral infection.
If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, it’s important to completely finish them, even if you or your child feel better.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend you talk to an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist about a tonsillectomy, an outpatient surgical procedure to remove the tonsils.
The decision to remove tonsils is influenced by different factors, including symptoms, the complications you have and if tonsillitis is affecting your quality of life. Your doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy for:
- Chronic tonsillitis that doesn’t get better with antibiotics or other treatments
- Recurrent episodes of tonsillitis – for example, seven or more episodes in a year
- Swollen tonsils are causing breathing problems or sleep apnea symptoms
When to call the doctor about your tonsillitis
If you or your child aren’t feeling better after three days of home treatments, it’s a good idea to make a primary care appointment.
Make an appointment if you or your child have:
- A sore throat with a fever
- A sore throat that lasts longer than 48 hours
- Difficulty and painful swallowing
- Extreme tiredness
Head to the emergency room if you or your child have:
- Difficulty breathing
- Significant drooling because it’s hard to swallow
Infected, swollen tonsils are a pain. Our primary care doctors and ENT specialists are here to help.