How is Tonsillitis Diagnosed?


To diagnose tonsillitis, a healthcare provider will first conduct a physical examination. This involves examining your throat, reviewing your symptoms, examining the ears and nose, feeling the lymph nodes in the neck to check for swelling, and using a stethoscope to listen to your breathing. 

There are three different diagnoses that fall under the tonsilitis umbrella:

  1. Acute tonsillitis - Symptoms usually only last a few days, though they can persist for about two weeks. Symptoms can include red and swollen tonsils, sore throat, and difficulty swallowing.
  2. Recurrent tonsillitis - A person experiences several different episodes of tonsillitis infection (seven episodes in one year, five episodes per year for two years, or at least three episodes per year for three years)
  3. Chronic tonsillitis. People with chronic tonsillitis often experience persistent symptoms of swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, and bad breath

After confirming a tonsillitis diagnosis, the doctor will determine whether the infection is viral or bacterial. This can be done by performing a bacteria culture test, which involves swabbing the back of the throat to gather a sample which is then tested in a clinic or laboratory. Your doctor may also recommend a CBC (complete blood count) test, where a sample of blood is analyzed to help determine whether the infection is viral or bacterial.

How can a primary doctor help?

Your primary care doctor can help address the symptoms of tonsillitis and discuss any further treatment that may be necessary. They can also provide you with additional information on how to treat or manage your symptoms. They may ask about the severity of your symptoms, how long you have had symptoms, whether you are having difficulty swallowing, and whether you have been diagnosed with tonsillitis before. If your primary care doctor believes that further care is needed, they can provide referrals to specialists for additional treatment.

How is Tonsillitis Treated?


The treatment options for tonsillitis depend on its root cause. If a viral infection caused the condition, there is no medicine to treat it. If a bacterial infection causes it, however, some antibiotics can be used for tonsillitis treatment. These include penicillin, cephalosporin, or clindamycin. 

When a bacterial infection causes tonsillitis, it is essential to finish taking all the antibiotics given to you, even if your symptoms diminish.

At-home treatments

Regardless of whether it is caused by a viral or bacterial infection, there are at-home remedies that can help soothe tonsilitis symptoms. These at-home treatments include:

  • Rest
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Eating soft foods if you are experiencing difficulty swallowing
  • Gargling warm salt water
  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Taking throat


Your doctor may consider a surgical option known as a tonsillectomy, particularly with recurring or chronic tonsillitis patients. This procedure involves the removal of the tonsils and may help reduce complications that arise as a result of recurrent or chronic tonsillitis.

A tonsillectomy can often be done as an outpatient surgery, though some patients may require an overnight stay in the hospital.



Acute tonsillitis symptoms typically last 3-4 days but can sometimes last up to 1-2 weeks. In people with chronic tonsillitis, symptoms can persist for much longer than that, and a doctor may consider surgically removing the tonsils to avoid further discomfort and complications.

Tonsilitis usually causes red, swollen tonsils, swollen lymph nodes, and white spots or a white or yellow coating on the tonsils.

Tonsillitis is not contagious. However, the virus or bacteria that causes tonsillitis can be contagious and can be passed to others. Individuals infected with the virus or bacteria that cause tonsillitis are typically contagious until symptoms subside. For cases of bacterial tonsillitis, you may be contagious until you have been on antibiotics for 24 hours.

Yes, tonsillitis can go away on its own without medication. To help alleviate the symptoms, drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest. You can also gargle with salt water and take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen. Some cases of tonsillitis do require antibiotics, so schedule an appointment with your doctor to determine the best treatment options.

Get Care

Receive Treatment for Tonsillitis at NewYork-Presbyterian

At NewYork-Presbyterian, we offer early, late, or weekend appointments, as well as same-day appointments for critical needs and your convenience.

We accept most insurance policies and can provide referrals to healthcare specialists if additional treatment is needed. Our patient portal can provide you with easy access to your medical records, allow you to manage your appointments, and connect you with our team of medical professionals. Some situations can be addressed through video visits alone*.

Schedule an appointment or virtual urgent care visit* with NewYork-Presbyterian or at one of our medical group locations today.

*Restrictions apply