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9 home remedies for tonsillitis

Tonsillitis doesn't always require a trip to the doctors. In fact, there are several non-medicinal and budget-friendly ways to treat tonsillitis in your own home.

Home remedies for tonsillitis

Your tonsils are two glands at the back of your throat that fight off bacteria and other harmful substances from entering your body. When they become infected and inflamed, this is known as tonsillitis. The hallmark of this is having a sore throat, but there are other tonsillitis symptoms to look out for. The most common cause of tonsillitis are viral infections.

There are over-the-counter tonsillitis treatments to help soothe the pain and reduce swelling:

  • Pain relief drugs - such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
  • Throat lozenges - contain anaesthetics to soothe and numb sore throats and may also reduce swelling.
  • Throat sprays and gargles - are also soothing, reduce swelling, and help kill the infection.
  • Throat numbing agents - sprays that numb the throat to reduce pain. However, you need to be careful about eating or drinking foods that are too hot or too cold to avoid burns.
Managing tonsillitis in children requires different treatments, as some of these medications aren’t safe for them. Always check with a pharmacist if you are unsure.

You can also choose to use non-medicinal home remedies for tonsillitis. If you have a healthy immune system, your infection has a good chance of going away on its own - usually within 3-4 days.

We've analysed nine medicine-free remedies that may help speed recovery along and relieve your sore throat from the comfort of home.

1. Gargle salt water

Gargling with warm salt water can help to soothe your throat pain, reduce swelling, and even treat the infection. However, this method isn't suitable for young children, who may accidentally swallow the solution.

How to do it:

  • Stir half a teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water.
  • Gargle the solution then spit it out - Don't swallow it.
  • Repeat as many times in the day as you like.

2. Drink lots of water

It can be tempting not to drink too much if it hurts to swallow, but it's important to stay hydrated. Not only can dehydration slow down recovery - keeping your throat moist will also help to ease sore throat symptoms. Try to have two litres - or eight cups - of fluids a day1. Some people find that having ice lollies are really soothing for their throat as well as hydrating.

3. Drink warm liquids

Drinking warm soups, beverages, and broths can be extra soothing. This is because warm liquids cause you to produce more saliva than cold liquids, which further helps to lubricate your throat. A word of warning - piping hot liquids could cause dehydration and irritate your throat. It's a good idea to add a splash of cold water to a fresh tea or coffee.

4. Add honey to your tea

Some people favour herbal teas as a simple home remedy for sore throat conditions like tonsillitis. However, most of the evidence is anecdotal - meaning while many talk of this working, there's limited science to back it up - and there's only a small amount of scientific evidence that certain herbal teas can kill bacterial infections in the throat2. Ginger tea may be a good choice, as this herb has anti-inflammatory properties3, but again most evidence doesn't look at the effects of ginger as a tea specifically.

This said, if you enjoy tea, the sensory effect of drinking this warm beverage can be soothing. Stirring a little honey into it is also a popular concoction. Honey can reduce irritation by forming a moisturising film in your throat and also has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties4 - just be wary of how much you have for your daily sugar limit.

5. Eat cold foods

While warm drinks can lubricate your scratchy throat, cold foods can offer temporary pain relief by numbing the area. This can be particularly useful for treating a young child who can't safely use other home remedies for tonsillitis. Children may also find comfort and enjoyment in many options - like ice lollies, ice creams, and frozen yoghurt - and you might too.

6. Avoid hard or sharp foods

If your throat pain is making it difficult to eat or drink, try to avoid hard and sharp foods that may scratch it. As well as the immediate pain, scratching could irritate the throat more, promote swelling, and increase recovery time. Try swapping raw vegetables for vegetable soups, dry cereal for warm porridge, and chips for mash potato.

7. Rest your voice

If you're finding speaking painful, you should try to rest your voice as much as possible. It can be tempting to strain your voice in order to speak louder if tonsillitis swelling has quietened your vocal cords - avoid this when you can, as it may cause further damage. Sometimes, difficulty speaking is the sign of a complication - such as quinsy - so visit your doctor if this problem persists.

8. Increase home humidity

Dry air in your home can also irritate your sore throat. A simple way to counteract this is to regularly inhale steam while in a hot shower or bath, or by putting boiling water into a bowl and leaning over it with a towel above your head to trap steam, and breathing in deeply. Better yet, if your budget can stretch to a cool mist humidifier, this device can soothe a sore throat by adding moisture into the air.

9. Get plenty of rest

Finally, getting plenty of sleep and rest is one of the most important home remedies for tonsillitis. This allows your body to fight off the bacteria and viruses causing the infection, so that you can get back to good health as quickly as possible.

When to see a doctor for tonsillitis

Although most cases of tonsillitis can be treated by home remedies, there are some circumstances where you should visit your doctor.

Book an appointment if you experience a combination of these tonsillitis symptoms, and home treatment fails to cure them within 3-4 days.

  • A persistent sore throat.
  • Fever.
  • Difficulty or pain swallowing.
  • Fatigue - feeling overly tired.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • In infants and young children look out for fussiness.

A doctor may prescribe you a course of antibiotics. In more serious cases where you experience multiple episodes of tonsillitis, surgery to remove the tonsils may be an option.

Further reading

  1. University of Michigan: Sore Throat? Here's What to Do.
  2. Wijesundara and Rupasinghe: Herbal tea for the management of pharyngitis: inhibition of Streptococcus pyogenes growth and biofilm formation by herbal infusions.
  3. Mashhadi et al: Anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects of ginger in health and physical activity.
  4. Cianciosi et al: Phenolic compounds in honey and their associated health benefits.

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