A sore throat can be reason for concern, and it can be tough to know when it’s time to see a doctor. Usually, a sore throat can be treated at home with simple remedies. Tonsillitis and a simple sore throat share many commonalities that make it difficult to differentiate between the two. 

At-home sore throat remedies, such as saltwater gargles, throat lozenges, and staying hydrated, normally improve sore throats. However, it is important to seek help from an emergency room if you see no improvement or your symptoms have become life-threatening. This guide will dive into when tonsillitis is an emergency and when you should seek medical attention.

What is Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils, the lymph nodes at the back of the mouth and top of the throat. Your tonsils and immune system prevent infection in the body by filtering out bacteria, but they can be impacted by a viral infection. This infection is most common in young children but can affect people of all ages. Symptoms of tonsillitis may include:

  • Swollen tonsils
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Painful swallowing 

Chronic tonsillitis occurs when you have several episodes of tonsillitis over a long period of time or if tonsillitis symptoms persist after treatment. In some cases, surgery to remove the tonsils, a tonsillectomy, would be the recommended step to treat chronic symptoms.

woman with sore throat

Common Causes of Sore Throats

Before you make your way to an urgent care center, consider the other possible conditions that may cause a sore throat. 


Allergens—like pollen, pet dander, and certain foods—can induce an allergic response. A sore throat can be a part of those allergy symptoms, but most allergies can be easily addressed with over-the-counter allergy medications and decongestants.

Post-Nasal Drip

When excess mucus accumulates in the sinuses, your body will experience postnasal drip.  Postnasal drip symptoms include halitosis and coughing, and can be treated with over-the-counter remedies, such as sinus rinses.

Colds and the Flu

Viral infections, such as the common cold and flu, can cause congestion, a sore throat, and fatigue. These infections also put you at risk for developing secondary infections, like strep throat. 

Strep Throat

This is a bacterial infection that can be rooted in a common cold or flu, and that is usually addressed with prescribed medication. This bacterial tonsillitis can include symptoms like a red, sore throat, pus on the tonsils, fever, and rashes. If strep throat is left untreated, complications can make symptoms worse and require medical attention

When to See a Physician

Sore throats are uncomfortable but are not always a reason to seek urgent care. You should seek medical attention if you are experiencing a sore throat accompanied with:

  • Severe pain that interferes with daily activities, such as eating, talking, or breathing
  • Swollen glands 
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Pus on the tonsils
  • Coughing up blood

Normally, tonsillitis doesn’t require extensive treatment, and there isn’t a specific treatment method. Staying hydrated, getting plenty of rest, and taking over-the-counter pain medications can be helpful in easing symptoms. A physician may even prescribe a short course of oral antibiotics for your infection, and symptoms should begin to improve within a week.

Seek out medical help if your symptoms are life-threatening and if your severe pain lasts more than a few days. For children, assess if your child is experiencing an excess of salivation, difficulty in swallowing or speaking, or an inability to move their neck. These symptoms may require medical attention at a care clinic.

child with medical professional

Tonsillitis Complications

Complications are rare and oftentimes caused by a bacterial infection spreading to another part of the body. Severe conditions that develop from tonsillitis include:

  • Otitis media, also known as a middle ear infection, occurs when fluid is infected by bacteria in the eardrum and inner ear.
  • Peritonsillar abscess refers to a collection of pus which accumulates in the between the tonsils and wall of the throat.
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) occurs when the breathing difficulties and poor sleep develop as the throat walls relax.

Village Emergency Centers Can Help

It’s important to know when tonsillitis is an emergency. For severe throat pain and chronic tonsillitis, get the care you deserve and take the road to Village. Our team of medical professionals are equipped with the experience and tools to deliver the care and assistance you need. For more information about our services, visit our website and find your Village today.

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