What is it?

Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils, which are two small glands found at the back of the throat. Either a virus or bacteria can cause tonsillitis, however most cases are viral.


What are the symptoms?

It usually takes around two – four days for the symptoms to appear after catching the infection. The main one is a sore throat, however tonsillitis is different to just a sore throat because there are usually other accompanying symptoms, such as red and swollen tonsils, high temperature, coughing, headaches and tiredness.

If a virus caused the tonsillitis (the flu virus, for example) then your child may have other flu symptoms, such as a runny nose. If it was bacteria that caused the tonsillitis, your child may also have a skin rash or a flushed face.

How common is tonsillitis?

Sore throats are very common, but it’s hard to say how common tonsillitis actually is. According to the NHS, one in 10 people see their doctor about sore throats every year. Children are most likely to get tonsillitis between the ages of 5 and 15, because of the close contact with lots of other children during school. The infection is spread through hand contact or breathing in the airborne droplets after someone with tonsillitis has sneezed.

Do you need to take your child to the doctor?

Yes. Your doctor will be able to examine your child’s throat and diagnose whether the tonsillitis is viral or bacterial.

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If it’s bacterial, your doctor may be able to prescribe antibiotics.

Viral tonsillitis often clears up on its own without treatment, but you can read our suggestions below to help to ease the pain.

What can you do to help ease the pain for your child?

Make sure your child has plenty to eat or drink, even if they complain it’s painful to swallow. Being hungry or dehydrated will just make some of the other symptoms even worse.

Children’s paracetamol or ibuprofen may also help the pain, but make sure you read the packet before giving any to a small child.

It is likely that their immune system will clear the infection within a few days.

You can also help your child avoid further infections by making sure they wash their hands regularly.

What if your child gets tonsillitis a lot?

If your child has recurring bouts, usually five or more times a year, then your doctor may suggest they remove the tonsils. This is done by an operation known as tonsillectomy, and is one of the most common major operations carried out on children.

Should your child go to school with tonsillitis?

Your child may feel too poorly to go to school and if the infection is viral then it’s best for your child to stay home for a few days to recover, as going to school with the virus will make it more likely for them to catch it again. However, this will depend on each child and the severity of the infection.

Children who have had a tonsillectomy should be kept off school for two weeks to reduce the chance of picking up another infection.


What else may your child come into contact with during school?

Other infections like verrucas, chickenpox, impetigo, molluscum contagiosum, threadworms, ear infections, ringworm, diarrhoea and vomiting are also common for your child to catch during school.