ZocdocAnswersWhat is tonsillitis? How contagious is it? How do you treat it?

Question

What is tonsillitis? How contagious is it? How do you treat it?

My girlfriend has a pretty severe infection in her throat - she can hardly speak. She even feels like the infection has spread to her ears. Diagnosed as tonsillitis - what can we do, how contagious, things to be aware of?

Answer

Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils, obviously, that can be caused by either a bacteria or a virus. Usually, it is a viral infection that will clear by itself and only needs supportive therapy, such as warm teas, good hydration, and rest. As a virus, it is generally very contagious, and would be transmitted rapidly through saliva. Fortunately, they do usually resolve relatively quickly. In about 10% of adults, the tonsillitis can be caused by streptococcus, a common bacteria. Because it is treatable in these cases, and also because untreated it can cause other problems, physicians will treat strep throat with antibiotics. Again, this is the minority of cases. There are criteria that help to determine whether or not it is likely to be strep throat: if she has a cough, no fever, no "gunk" in the back of her throat, and no tenderness in her neck, she is not likely to have strep throat. If it has been diagnosed by a physician, I am confident that they discussed those with you, and have determined that the cause is viral. As such, you will want to make sure that she stays adequately hydrated, as that is one of the greatest risks. If she develops a high fever or her symptoms become worse, please return to your doctor. Her ears feel affected as well most likely because the eustachian tube, where the ears drain into your throat, enters the throat near the tonsils.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.