Is Tonsillitis Contagious? What You Need To Know!


Tonsillitis is a common infection that causes inflammation and swelling of the tonsils. It is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. The most common symptoms of tonsillitis include sore throat, difficulty swallowing, fever, and enlarged tonsils.

Tonsillitis can be quite painful and uncomfortable. One of the most frequently asked questions about tonsillitis is – is it contagious? Let’s find out in this article.

What Is Tonsillitis?

The tonsils are two oval-shaped tissue masses located at the back of the throat. Tonsils are part of the body’s immune system and function to trap germs that enter through the throat. When the tonsils become infected and inflamed, the condition is called tonsillitis. 

Tonsillitis Treatment

Tonsillitis can be caused by both viruses and bacteria. Viral tonsillitis is more common and is generally caused by the same viruses that cause colds and flu. The most common viruses include rhinovirus, coronavirus, adenovirus, and influenza. Bacterial tonsillitis is less common and is often caused by Group A streptococcus bacteria.

Symptoms Of Tonsillitis

The most prominent symptoms of tonsillitis include:

  • Sore throat – often described as severe and painful
  • Difficult or painful swallowing 
  • Red, swollen tonsils sometimes with white or yellow coating
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck 
  • Fever 
  • Headache 
  • Stomach ache, especially in children
  • General tiredness

The symptoms usually start suddenly and tend to get worse over 2-3 days. Viral tonsillitis generally resolves within a week to 10 days while bacterial tonsillitis lasts longer if not treated with antibiotics.

Causes Of Tonsillitis

  • Viral infections – rhinovirus, adenovirus, influenza, parainfluenza, Epstein-Barr virus, herpes simplex virus
  • Bacterial infections – Group A streptococcus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, Anaerobes
  • Inflammation due to illnesses like diphtheria, tuberculosis, gonorrhea
  • Irritants or trauma to the throat

Is Tonsillitis Contagious?

Yes, tonsillitis is contagious and can spread from person to person. However, the contagiousness depends on whether it is caused by a virus or bacteria.

Viral tonsillitis is highly contagious. The viruses that cause viral tonsillitis can be transmitted easily through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Direct contact with infected surfaces or sharing utensils can also transmit the infection. A person suffering from viral tonsillitis remains contagious for the duration of the illness. 

Bacterial tonsillitis caused by Group A Streptococcus bacteria is moderately contagious. These bacteria are spread through respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing. Sharing eating utensils and touching contaminated surfaces can also transmit the infection. A person with strep throat stops being contagious within 24 hours of starting antibiotic treatment.

Therefore, tonsillitis caused by viruses is more contagious compared to bacterial tonsillitis. Maintaining good hygiene, avoiding the sharing of utensils or glasses, and staying away from infected individuals can reduce transmission.

How To Treat Tonsillitis Effectively?

Here are some effective ways to treat tonsillitis:

  • Get plenty of rest – Sleep and rest allow the body to heal faster. Avoid strenuous activities until the illness has resolved.
  • Take over-the-counter medications – Acetaminophen or ibuprofen helps relieve fever and pain associated with tonsillitis. Throat lozenges can provide temporary pain relief and soothe irritation.
  • Use a humidifier – Keeping the air moist with a cool mist humidifier can provide comfort from a sore throat.
  • Drink lots of fluids – Drink water, juices, soups, and herbal teas to stay hydrated and prevent dehydration. Avoid dairy products and citrus juices which can further irritate the throat. 
  • Gargle with warm salt water – Gargling with warm salt water 2-3 times a day removes mucus and soothes inflamed tonsils. 
  • Have popsicles or soft foods – Eating popsicles, ice cream, pudding, or soft-cooked foods can ease swallowing. Avoid spicy, acidic, crunchy, or irritating foods.
  • Take antibiotics if prescribed – For bacterial tonsillitis, antibiotics like penicillin or amoxicillin are used to treat the infection. Complete the entire course even if feeling better.

With rest and proper care, most cases of viral tonsillitis resolve on their own. See a doctor if symptoms persist beyond a week or get severe. Also, consult a doctor about the need for antibiotics if the cause is bacterial.


Tonsillitis is an inflammatory infection of the tonsils caused by viruses or bacteria. The most common symptoms include severe sore throat, pain while swallowing, fever, and swollen tonsils. 

Viral tonsillitis is highly contagious and spreads through respiratory droplets and direct contact with infected persons or surfaces. Bacterial tonsillitis caused by streptococcus bacteria is moderately contagious.

Tonsillitis usually resolves within 3-4 days with rest and symptomatic care. Antibiotics are only recommended for bacterial tonsillitis. Prevention involves practicing good hygiene, avoiding shared utensils, and staying away from infected people.

With proper precautions and treatment, tonsillitis can be managed effectively. See a doctor if symptoms do not improve or worsen.


Q: How long is a person with tonsillitis contagious?

A: A person with viral tonsillitis remains contagious for the duration of the illness, usually 7-10 days. Someone with bacterial tonsillitis is contagious for 2-3 days before antibiotics and up to 24 hours after starting antibiotic treatment.

Q: Can tonsillitis recur? 

A: Yes, it is possible to get recurrent attacks of tonsillitis, especially if the tonsils remain chronically inflamed after an infection. Good hygiene and preventive measures can reduce recurrences. Frequent tonsillitis may require tonsil removal (tonsillectomy) surgery.

Q: Is tonsillitis common in adults?

A: Tonsillitis is more common in children and teens but can affect people of any age. Adults are more likely to get viral tonsillitis while strep throat is rare in adults over 40 years old. 

Q: Are swollen tonsils always due to tonsillitis?

A: No, while swollen inflamed tonsils indicate tonsillitis, other conditions like peritonsillar abscess, mononucleosis, and diphtheria can also cause enlarged tonsils. Only a doctor can diagnose the exact cause of swollen tonsils after evaluation.

Q: Can I go to school/work with tonsillitis? 

A: It is best to stay home from school or work until the illness resolves, especially with viral tonsillitis. This helps prevent transmission to others. Return once the fever subsides and you feel well enough to resume normal activities.

Dr. Jun Ren is a dedicated and experienced registered dietitian and nutritionist who is committed to helping people achieve their health goals through personalized nutrition plans. With a passion for promoting healthy eating habits and preventing chronic diseases, Dr. Ren has been able to assist numerous clients in improving their overall quality of life.

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