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How Are Swollen Tonsils Treated?

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Updated March 26, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: How Are Swollen Tonsils Treated?
Answer:

Swollen tonsils can have many causes, ranging from strep throat, mono, cold viruses and more. So, how a doctor will treat them depends on the cause. Additionally, the decision to treat swollen tonsils also will be based on the severity of the swelling and whether or not complications such as difficulty swallowing or sleep apnea are present. If you are not sure what is causing you or your child's swollen tonsils you may wish to read some of the following articles:

If you cannot swallow, are drooling, or have breathing difficulty you should get emergency medical care.

While it is not an emergency, you should also see a doctor anytime you have symptoms, (including swollen tonsils), of strep throat to avoid dangerous complications. Your doctor will perform a strep test, during which she will use a long Q-tip to touch your tonsils and the back of your throat. This Q-tip is then tested for the bacteria that causes strep throat. Results only take a few minutes. If the test is positive you will be given a prescription for antibiotics, and your tonsils should shrink after a few days of taking this medication. If the test is negative it will be sent to a laboratory for further evaluation.

If you do not have strep throat, a viral infection such as mono or a strain of the common cold virus may be the cause. In this case, there is no medication that can cure a virus, but certain medications, called steroids may be helpful in shrinking your tonsils. However, steroids can have serious side effects and may not be effective. Therefore, your doctor will most likely not prescribe steroids unless you have complications such as swallowing difficulties, drooling or sleep apnea.

If your swollen tonsils are a chronic condition, for example if you have recurring strep throat, and especially if they cause complications, your doctor may consider surgically removing your tonsils. This procedure is called a tonsillectomy. Tonsillectomies are very common in the United States and are usually performed as a same day surgery. For more information on tonsillectomies read:

If your doctor chooses not to treat your swollen tonsils with medication or surgery, there are still things you can do at home. Drinking cold fluids, and even putting an ice pack on your neck can help reduce swelling. Using a cool mist humidifier may also help to reduce swollen tonsils. You can take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, or acetaminophen (it's probably best to avoid aspirin, especially in children) to ease the pain of a sore throat. For more tips on treating swollen tonsils and a sore throat at home read:

Swollen tonsils are quite common and are usually caused by an infection. You can prevent swollen tonsils by practicing good hygiene such as washing your hands often and staying at home when you are sick.

Source:

Medline Plus. Tonsillitis. Accessed: October 11, 2011 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001043.htm

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