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Tonsillitis (cont.)

Is tonsillitis contagious?

Tonsillitis is contagious, and transmission of the illness usually occurs from coming into direct contact with infected individuals. The infectious organisms are typically transmitted either through airborne droplets released during coughing or sneezing, or indirectly via contact with infected surfaces (such as cups, tissue, or utensils).

Tonsillitis caused by a virus is often contagious for about 7–10 days.

Untreated bacterial tonsillitis may be contagious for about 2 weeks. However, people with bacterial tonsillitis treated with antibiotics generally become non-contagious 24 hours after initiating treatment.

What kind of doctor treats tonsillitis?

Most cases of uncomplicated tonsillitis can be managed by your primary care physician or by an urgent care/emergency department physician. However, cases of severe or chronic tonsillitis may require referral to an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT). An ENT will also manage any surgical procedures that may be necessary, such as removal of the tonsils (tonsillectomy). Rarely, hospitalization may be necessary for individuals with severe tonsillitis with complications leading to airway obstruction.

When should I contact a doctor for tonsillitis?

The majority of people that develop tonsillitis will fully recover without medical care. People who may have bacterial tonsillitis that require antibiotics should seek medical care, especially since it is often difficult to differentiate viral from bacterial tonsillitis based on symptoms alone. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain or difficulty with swallowing
  • Unable to control your secretions; unable to eat, drink, or take medicines
  • Unable to open your mouth (trismus)
  • Swelling or redness of the neck
  • Change in voice, such as muffled speech or "hot potato" voice (speaking as if a hot object is being held in the mouth)
  • Difficulty breathing

In some instances, individuals with tonsillitis may experience complications, such as airway blockage from severely swollen tonsils, extension of the tonsillar infection into the neck, or a peritonsillar abscess (a collections of pus requiring drainage that develops in the tissue surrounding the tonsil). In rare instances, patients with untreated strep throat can go on to develop rheumatic fever.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/30/2015
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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Tonsillitis and Peritonsillar Abscess »

In the first century AD, Celsus described tonsillectomy performed with sharp tools and followed by rinses with vinegar and other medicinals.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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