The virus that causes tonsillitis can make people contagious for about seven to ten days, especially if untreated. If a doctor provides antibiotics, however, people will be contagious for only about 24 to 48 hours after starting treatment. Untreated bacterial tonsillitis can make a person contagious for up to two weeks. The condition affects the two oval-shaped areas of lymphoid tissue on the left and right sides of the throat, also called the palatine tonsils. Two lingual tonsils are at the base and back of the tongue. Bacteria that cause inflammation associated with tonsillitis can also attack the adenoids.
One of the first things a person with tonsillitis may notice is tender and enlarged lymph nodes in or near the throat. The tonsils will be reddish, and the inflammation may cause a sore throat and make it difficult to swallow. Once the condition starts to advance, a whitish, gray, or yellowish pus may appear on the surface of the tonsils. In some cases, the bacterial or viral infection causes fever and bad breath, chills, muscle aches, or fatigue. A medical practitioner can determine whether the cause is bacterial or viral, and ensure the patient receives the proper treatment. Untreated tonsillitis could have more dangerous outcomes including spread of the infection.
When a person goes to a doctor complaining of the combination of symptoms that typically accompany tonsillitis, the doctor will first simply examine the tonsils. If symptoms indicate the infection is more advanced and the doctor believes it may spread to the neck, she may order a CT scan. Suspicion of strep throat or mononucleosis may lead to throat cultures or blood tests.
A person with tonsillitis must come in direct or close contact with another person to spread the bacteria or virus. When bacteria is causing the inflammation, a cough or sneeze may be enough to spread it. Kissing is a more common way to spread the infection. People who suspect they have tonsillitis should refrain from any kind of close contact with others.
Whether the infection is viral or bacterial, the best way to know tonsillitis is past is to identify that all symptoms have retreated. Typically, this takes about seven to ten days, if a person is on antibiotics or other treatment. Some people do not require treatment and simply wait for the symptoms to go away. However, this can result in the infection flaring up again a few weeks or months later. The same can happen if one begins antibiotics and does not finish the course. The danger is this approach is that the infection could flare up again after a few weeks or months. Some people have chronic recurring tonsillitis that may lead to the removal of the tonsils.
Person-to-person contact is not the only method of spreading tonsillitis. People who handle contaminated objects such as doorknobs are at risk of contracting the infection, too. Once a person touches a contaminated object and then touches their face or another body part, the infection can spread. It is best to disinfect objects that an infected person has handled.
There are no age parameters for catching tonsillitis. Like many illnesses, the vulnerability factor is greater in children and older adults, since their immune systems are less robust than healthy adults. Children and teenagers are especially vulnerable because they spend a lot of time in close social environments.
The time between exposure to the infection that causes tonsillitis and the development of symptoms is about two to four days. However, some people can be carriers of the virus or bacteria and not develop the actual condition for some time, while remaining contagious despite their lack of symptoms.
People who know they have tonsillitis should stay home to avoid spreading it to other people. It remains contagious until the symptoms have disappeared completely. People with tonsillitis should ensure to practice good hygiene and always cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Avoid sharing personal items, like the same drinking cup.
Once a person with tonsillitis has seen a doctor, some at-home remedies may help alleviate symptoms. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water or clear liquids like herbal tea. To soothe throat irritation, gargle with salt water or suck on lozenges. A humidifier can also help soothe some of the symptoms.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.