How do you get tonsillitis and is it contagious?

Tonsillitis is often thought of as a childhood illness, but the painful condition is also very likely to affect adults.

It can also easily mistaken for Covid as both conditions display similar flu-like symptoms and both can make you feel dreadful.

Tonsillitis is not contagious, but the bacterial and virus infections that cause tonsillitis are.

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Tonsillitis is not contagious, but the bacterial and virus infections that cause tonsillitis are.

Here we look at what the symptoms of tonsillitis are and how to treat it. 

How do you get tonsillitis? 

Tonsillitis usually spreads through inhaling respiratory droplets that are made when someone with the infection coughs or sneezes. 

It is also possible to develop tonsillitis if you come into contact with a contaminated object.

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An example of this is if you touch a contaminated door handle and then touch your face, nose or mouth.

If the infection reaches your tonsils then it can develop into tonsillitis. 

Tonsillitis is usually caused by a virus, such as a cold, but it can also be due to a bacterial infection such as strep throat.

Is tonsillitis contagious? 

Tonsillitis is not contagious, but the bacterial and viral infections that cause tonsillitis are.

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Examples include strep bacteria, adenoviruses and Epstein-Barr virus

Kids are more likely to get these bugs due to how they mix at school, but typically parents and teachers are more at risk, too.

To stop these infections spreading, if you think you or your child have the virus, it is important to stay home, use tissues when you cough or sneeze and wash your hands regularly.

What are the symptoms of tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis can often feel like a bad cold or flu and can be easily mistaken for Covid. 

If you have tonsillitis caused by a viral infection, your symptoms may be milder.

If it is caused by a bacterial infection then the symptoms will be more severe, and you may have bad breath.

The most obvious symptom will be that your tonsils at the back of your throat appear red and swollen.

Other common symptoms include: 

  • a sore throat
  • problems swallowing
  • a high temperature of 38C or above
  • coughing
  • a headache
  • feeling sick
  • earache
  • feeling tired

More severe symptoms which are more likely to appear if you had a viral infection include:

  • swollen, painful glands in your neck (feels like a lump on the side of your neck)
  • white pus-filled spots on your tonsils
  • bad breath

How do you cure tonsillitis?

Most cases of tonsillitis will begin to get better within a week without the need for treatment.

But there are some things you can do to ease the symptoms.

Make sure you have plenty to eat and drink.

Over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, can relieve a sore throat.

Antibiotics can be prescribed if the illness is caused by a bacterial infection.

In rare occasions, removal of the tonsils is necessary, if tonsillitis is persistent.

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