Aromatherapy A-Z: Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils that is normally caused by a virus such as the common cold or a bacterial infection such as streptococci. It is particularly common in children, teens and young adults and will typically clear up on its own within a few days.

What are the tonsils?

The tonsils are two lymph nodes that are located in the upper part of the throat (pharynx). They are our first line of defense against illness, producing white blood cells that help our bodies fight off infection. They help combat viruses and bacteria that we breathe in through our mouths but can sometimes be vulnerable to infection. The tonsils are at their largest during childhood but reduce in size over time, possibly because antibodies to a large number of illnesses are developed during childhood as we are progressively exposed to different bacteria and viruses.

Symptoms of tonsillitis

Tonsillitis can feel a bit like having a bad cold or flu. The tonsils will appear red and swollen as they are producing more white blood cells to fight the infection. Other symptoms can include:

  • Sore throat and difficulty swallowing
  • Coughing
  • Hoarse voice or loss of voice
  • High temperature (over 38C)
  • Headache
  • Earache
  • Tiredness
  • Feeling sick

In more severe cases you may also experience painful swollen glands in the side of the neck and bad breath. You may also be able to see white pus-filled spots the tonsils.

Conventional treatment for tonsillitis

The infection will normally clear up by itself within 3-4 days. Whilst tonsillitis isn’t contagious the virus or bacteria that cause it are, so you should take precautions to stop these infections from spreading – e.g. staying off work or keeping children off school, washing hands and throwing away used tissues etc.

The NHS advises having plenty of cool drinks to soothe the throat, getting plenty of rest, gargling with salt water (not for children) and taking paracetamol or ibuprofen. Lozenges, throat sprays and antiseptic solutions are also available from pharmacies.

The NHS only advise seeing your GP if you have pus-filled spots on the tonsils, if you are unable to eat or drink, have difficulty breathing or if symptoms haven’t cleared after 4 days.

If you see your GP they may test to see if the cause is bacterial. If it is, antibiotics may be prescribed. If the cause is viral it will simply have to run its course as antibiotics will NOT help.

In the past the tonsils used to be removed if they were regularly infected. Now, however, it is recognised that they are there to help fight infection, and removal is avoided unless absolutely necessary.

If you develop severe tonsillitis as a teenager or adult, your GP may recommend a blood test for glandular fever.

Complications with tonsillitis are rare, but in a very small number of cases a bacterial infection can spread from the infected tonsil to the surrounding area causing an abscess to form between the tonsil and the wall of the throat. This condition is known as Quinsy. It is important that Quinsy is treated quickly (usually in hospital) to stop the infection spreading and to reduce severe swelling that may lead to breathing difficulties.

Aromatherapy treatments for tonsillitis

Aromatherapy essential oils can be helpful in preventing and treating the condition.

Salt Gargle

Salt gargles are excellent to help combat the infection. Dissolve ½ teaspoon of Sea Salt in a large glass of warm water and add 2 drops Tea Tree essential oil and 1 drop Myrrh. Gargle with the water and then spit it out. Repeat 3-4 times daily.

Steam Inhalations

Steam inhalations with Thyme, Benzoin and Tea Tree essential oils are useful to help relieve the pain (through the warmth of the steam and the anaesthetic effect of the oils). The strong antiseptic nature of the essential oils helps boost the immune response and acts on the infection itself.

Pour ½ litre of steaming hot water into a bowl and add 3 drops Thyme, 3 Tea Tree and 2 Benzoin. Lean over the bowl with a towel over your head and breathe in the aromatic steam for at least 5 minutes. Repeat 3 times daily.

Warm Compresses

A warm aromatherapy compress can also be helpful if the tonsils are very sore.

Take a bowl of hot water, add 6 drops Lavender, 4 drops Sandalwood and 2 drops Benzoin. Place a square of muslin or a clean flannel in the bowl and swirl around. Squeeze out the excess water and hold the cloth on to the throat.

Massage Oil

Following the warm compress combine 10ml Jojoba Oil, 5 drops Lavender, 4 drops Sandalwood and 1 drop Benzoin and massage into the throat area to help ease pain and boost immunity.

Other natural remedies for tonsillitis

Vitamin C can help bring down the high temperature that can accompany tonsillitis, as well as help ease the pain and boost the immune response. Vitamin C has very powerful natural pain killing and anti-inflammatory effects. For an adult – take 1 scoop (1 gram) of BioCare's Magnesium Ascorbate powder 3 times daily – if infection/pain is severe start at 2 grams and reduce to 1 gram as the tonsils reduce in size and infection subsides.

Soup with onions or leeks, ginger and garlic will also help boost the immune system and fight infection. Add add sage leaves too – fresh or dry! Sage has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and decongestant properties. Not only will the soup be good for you, it will also be easier to swallow while your throat is sore.

Sip a mug of sage tea - ideally made with 3-4 fresh leaves and fresh lemon.

With its antibacterial and healing properties, honey is also a useful throat soother. We love this Sage Honey recipe from James Wong’s ‘Grow Your Own Drugs’.

Take 1 large bunch of fresh sage (washed and dried) and place in a large saucepan with enough honey to cover (raw, organic honey is best). Simmer very gently for 1 hour and allow to cool before straining into a sterilised jar.

You can take 1 tsp of this honey 3-4 times a day or add it to a mug of Sage tea (see above).

Avoid the “3 whites” vigorously – white sugar, white flour and milk – in fact all dairy produce should be avoided as well as orange juice – as they increase mucus production which will worsen the symptoms.

Joannah Metcalfe
Consultant Aromatherapist

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