Doctors share what to do if your child gets tonsillitis and how to soothe symptoms at home

So your child has tonsillitis, what now? Advice direct from doctors on what to do, how to soothe symptoms and the best food to give your toddler or child if they're struggling to eat

Little boy ill at home in bed with tonsillitis
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Tonsillitis is a common illness in children and most get viral tonsillitis (caused by a virus), which clears up on its own without the need for medication. 

While treatment isn’t always needed if your child has tonsillitis, you should still always make an appointment with your GP to get a diagnosis and the best advice for your child. 

We spoke to Consultant Practitioner Dr Hussain Ahmad and Dr Ahmed Massoud, Consultant Paediatrician at The Portland Hospital (part of HCA Healthcare UK), and they gave their advice on what to do if your child contracts tonsillitis and how to soothe tonsillitis in toddlers and children at home. 

The information in this article is for general purposes only and does not take the place of medical advice. It is essential to be guided by your GP and take note of official NHS advice. You should immediately seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or you are concerned about your child. As a parent, you know your child better than anyone and you should always trust your own judgement. If you are at all in doubt, or you're worried about your child's symptoms, you should contact your GP.

What is tonsillitis and what causes it?

"Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils at the back of your throat. It is a common childhood illness, but teenagers and adults can get it too," explains Dr Ahmed Massoud.

Dr Massoud goes on to say that tonsillitis can be caused by both bacteria and viruses, "it can be viral or bacterial, and not everyone will need medical treatment." 

The NHS states that, "the majority of cases in children are caused by the same group of viruses that cause the common cold, such as adenovirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)." The bacteria and viruses that cause tonsillitis can easily be picked up by young children in their day to day lives, so it can be tricky to prevent your child from catching tonsillitis. 

Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) provides this further explanation: "Children's tonsils help them to build up immunity and fight infection. In many children, the tonsils become repeatedly infected with bacteria and viruses, which make them swell and become painful. This is called tonsillitis."

Most cases of tonsillitis are caused by a virus, and in these cases GOSH explains, "antibiotics will not work so are not required."

What should you do if your child contracts tonsillitis?

If you suspect your child might have got tonsillitis you should make an appointment to see your GP as soon as possible. 

"If your child is experiencing tonsillitis symptoms, visit their GP or a local pharmacist for advice," says Dr Massoud. "Depending on how severe the tonsillitis is, it might be that it is treatable at home with rest, plenty of fluids, and child-friendly pain medication like ibuprofen. However, it might be that your child needs treatments available at the pharmacy, or antibiotics depending on the type and severity of the infection," Dr Massoud adds. 

If your child contracts tonsillitis you should keep them at home and away from school, nursery or daycare until they feel better. Make sure that your child also gets plenty of sleep, as they'll need to rest to recover. 

During this time, it's best to keep your child's drinking glasses and eating utensils separate to avoid contamination to the rest of your household. Be sure to wash them in hot, soapy water as well or put them in the dishwasher.

What to do if your child contracts tonsillitis at a glance:

  • Make an appointment to see your GP
  • Keep them at home until they feel better 
  • Make sure your child is drinking enough fluids
  • Make sure that your child gets plenty of sleep and rest
  • Encourage your child to eat and drink
  • Encourage your child to cough or sneeze into a tissue to prevent the infection from spreading
  • Ensure everyone in your household washes their hands regularly to help prevent the infection from spreading
  • Wash glasses, crockery and cutlery at a high temperature to help minimise the risk of other members of your household getting infected

Are toddlers and children contagious with tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis itself is not contagious, but most of the infections that cause it are, for example, colds and flu. So if your toddler has tonsillitis caused by such an infection, then they can be contagious.

Dr Ahmad explains, "Tonsillitis isn't always contagious, but if it's caused by a bacterial infection then it can be passed on, so avoid sharing drinks with your toddler if you suspect or know they have a bacterial infection."

Dr Massoud goes on to say, "It's important to prevent the spread of the infection by teaching them to cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing and to wash their hands frequently. Additionally, if you or your child have a high temperature, try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people until you feel better."

How to soothe toddlers and children with tonsillitis

Lots of rest, naps, cuddles, sofa time and soft foods will be in order for your toddler or child if they are diagnosed with tonsillitis. 

"To soothe tonsillitis in toddlers, offer them plenty of fluids and soft foods. This should help ease the sore throat," Dr Massoud says.

He adds that over-the-counter pain relievers can also help but remember that you should never give aspirin to children under 16. 

Dr Ahmad says, "Ibuprofen can help reduce inflammation and provide some relief during the day, which can help when you have a mealtime coming up or they seem particularly uncomfortable." Your pharmacist or family doctor will be able to advise you on the appropriate medication for your child if they are suffering from tonsillitis. 

Dr Massoud also emphasises the importance of rest for any child feeling unwell, "of course, rest is also vital in helping recover from any illness, not just tonsillitis."

What is the best food to give a child with tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is a painful infection, and because of this your child may refuse to eat, even when hungry. Dr Ahmad advises, "Offer cold foods that are easy to swallow, like yoghurts or ice cream, and try not to stress out too much about how much they're eating as it's likely very painful for them."

Give your child soft foods such as puddings, soft white bread dampened by milk, smashed up banana, or ice-cream, as these will be less harsh on the throat compared to scratchy, hard foods such as toast or cereal.

"You can give a child with tonsillitis soft foods that are easy to swallow, such as mashed potatoes, yoghurt, smoothies, or warm (not hot) soups," Dr Massoud says. "Ice cream can also help soothe their throats."

How long does tonsillitis last in a child?

Most cases of tonsillitis disappear within a few days. You should make an appointment to see your GP if your child’s symptoms do not go away within 4 days.

"The duration of tonsillitis in a child can vary, but typically symptoms last for around 3 or 4 days," says Dr Massoud. "If symptoms fail to improve within 72 hours after starting antibiotics or if they persist for more than a week, it’s best to visit your GP."

If your child’s throat infections keep returning, you will need to speak to your GP. They may refer your child to an Ear, Nose & Throat Specialist, and in very rare circumstances a surgery may be suggested to have their tonsils taken out.

Do you need to take extra precautions if you are pregnant?

"Tonsillitis itself doesn't directly affect pregnancy, but if you experience symptoms like a high temperature towards the end of your pregnancy, this can cause complications and the need for extra monitoring during delivery and in your aftercare," Dr Ahmad says. 

Dr Massoud explains, "If you're pregnant, generally you should take extra precautions when it comes to any illness. For example, it’s best to avoid close contact with a child or adult with tonsillitis until they feel better, and symptoms have improved, or have been on antibiotics for bacterial tonsillitis for 48 hours or more."


The information on does not constitute medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. Although GoodtoKnow consults a range of medical experts to create and fact-check content, this information is for general purposes only and does not take the place of medical advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional or seek urgent medical attention if needed.

Our experts

Dr Ahmed Massoud, Consultant Paediatrician at The Portland Hospital
Dr Ahmed Massoud

Dr Ahmed Massoud is a Consultant Paediatrician and Endocrinologist at The Portland Hospital, working both in the NHS and the private sector in London at Northwick Park Hospital. Dr Massoud graduated from University College London, trained in General Paediatrics and completed his sub-speciality training in Paediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes at The Middlesex and Great Ormond Street Hospitals. Dr Massoud also has Postgraduate General Professional Training in General Paediatrics in several London Teaching Hospitals and is a Clinical Research Fellow in Paediatric Endocrinology at the Middlesex Hospital.

Dr Hussain Ahmad headshot
Dr Hussain Ahmad

Dr Hussain Ahmad (MUDr/MD) has over 10 years of experience working with patients across Europe and, most recently, in the North of England. He is an experienced hospital doctor working primarily in A&E in the North West. 

Rachael Martin
Digital journalist and editor

An internationally published digital journalist and editor, Rachael has worked for both news and lifestyle websites in the UK and abroad. Rachael's published work covers a broad spectrum of topics and she has written about everything from the future of sustainable travel, to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the world we live in, to the psychology of colour.