Is Tonsillitis Contagious? Learn about Tonsillitis Today


How Contagious is Tonsillitis?

The viruses and bacteria that cause tonsillitis are contagious.

Is tonsillitis contagious by air? Yes. tonsillitis can be spread by infected people coughing or sneezing droplets into the air and another person breathing them in.

Is tonsillitis contagious by direct and indirect contact? Yes. Tonsillitis can be spread by kissing; also by touching contaminated objects, such as a door handle, and then touching the face, nose, or mouth.

Is tonsillitis contagious in children? Yes. Tonsillitis is just as contagious for children as it is for adults. In fact, the majority of tonsillitis cases occur in children and teenagers.

What is Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is a viral or bacterial infection that causes inflammation and swelling of the tonsils. Regardless of what pathogen is infecting the tonsils, tonsillitis is contagious.

About 70% of tonsillitis cases are caused by cold viruses such as adenovirus, rhinovirus, influenza, and others.

The remaining cases of tonsillitis are bacterial, mostly streptococcus (strep throat).

How Long Is Tonsillitis Contagious For?

The length of contagion of tonsillitis depends on the severity and type of infection. Tonsillitis from a virus might last from 7 to 10 days, whereas tonsillitis from bacteria might last for several weeks (shorter if treated with antibiotics for tonsillitis). As an approximation, a person with tonsillitis will remain contagious for the duration of their symptoms.

Is tonsillitis contagious during incubation? Incubation is the time between contact with the pathogen and the development of symptoms. For tonsillitis, this typically takes 2 to 4 days. Tonsillitis is contagious for the last 1 to 2 days of incubation. If you think you have come in contact with something that may cause tonsillitis, assume that you are contagious for up to four days, even if no symptoms are present.

How easy is it to catch tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is a symptom of infections like the common cold or flu and therefore is as easy to catch as those conditions. The best way to avoid tonsillitis is to follow the tips below.

Tips to Avoid Spreading Tonsillitis:

  • Wash hands following recommended CDC guidelines, particularly after touching the face, nose, or hands; before eating or cooking; and after using the bathroom.
  • Cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow. Do not cough into open air and avoid coughing into your hands.
  • Stay at home until symptoms of tonsillitis go away.
  • Do not share objects such as drinking glasses, utensils, water bottles, or food with other people.

Anatomy of the Tonsils

There are several types of tonsils in the body. All are made of lymphoid tissue and help the body fight off infections. Most tonsils have crypts: small pits that store blood cells and antibodies that help prevent infections.

Types of tonsils:

  • Palatine tonsils — located in the back of the mouth on each side of the throat. “Tonsils”, when unspecified, typically refers to this type of tonsil. “Tonsillitis” refers to infection of the palatine tonsils.
  • Lingual tonsils — located at the base of the tongue in the back of the mouth.
  • Tubal tonsils — located on the wall of the pharynx near the opening to the eustachian tubes.
  • Pharyngeal tonsils — located in the back of the nasal cavity and do not have crypts.

Will Tonsillitis Go Away on its Own?

Tonsillitis may go away on its own in approximately 4 to 10 days. However, some forms of tonsillitis, such as that caused by strep bacteria, may cause health complications if left untreated.

So, when should you see a doctor for tonsillitis? If symptoms have not improved after four days, contact a doctor. A physician can diagnose the cause of tonsillitis and determine the best method of treatment.

Those suffering from chronic tonsillitis may be recommended to have their tonsils surgically removed. According to Cochrane Library Systematic Review, “Surgical removal of the tonsils is a commonly performed operation in patients with chronic or recurrent infections of the tonsils (tonsillitis) or the other tissues at the back of the throat (pharyngitis). However, opinions vary greatly about whether or not the benefits of these operations outweigh the risks.”

If the cause of tonsillitis is a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe you antibiotics. Our doctors at PlushCare make it simple for you to book an appointment, receive your diagnosis, and get you on the right treatment plan. PlushCare doctors can even write you a prescription for medication, if necessary.

Book an appointment here and talk to a doctor about your symptoms.

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