Tonsillitis: Causes, Symptoms, Who Gets It, And How It's Treated

Lifestyle & Health

Tonsils are two masses of lymphoid tissue located at the back of the throat. They are thought to help protect you from bacteria and viruses for some time after your birth but may not have any important functions later in life.

Inflammation of the tonsils is called tonsillitis. It’s caused by viral and bacterial infections and is often seen in children, but it is uncommon in adults. Treatment of tonsillitis depends on its cause and may involve antibiotics or tonsillectomy (surgical removal of the tonsils).

What causes tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is most often caused by flu viruses and common cold viruses. Other viruses that may cause tonsillitis include Epstein-Barr virus, herpes simplex virus, and enteroviruses. Bacterial infections, such as those caused by group A streptococcus bacteria, may also lead to tonsillitis.

What are the symptoms of tonsillitis?

Symptoms of tonsillitis vary in severity and may include the following:

  • a sore throat;
  • red, swollen tonsils which may be covered in white patches;
  • difficulty swallowing;
  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck;
  • fever;
  • headache;
  • hoarse voice or loss of voice;
  • bad breath.

Very young children who can’t speak yet may have the following symptoms:

  • poor feeding;
  • fussiness;
  • drooling (because of painful or difficult swallowing).

You should see a doctor if you or your child has symptoms listed above.

Who is at a higher risk of tonsillitis?

Adults are unlikely to have tonsillitis. Factors that increase the risk of tonsillitis are the following:

  • young age – tonsillitis is common in children aged between 2 and 15;
  • being exposed to germs in group setting, such as daycare centers and school.

How is tonsillitis treated?

If a bacterial infection caused tonsillitis, it may be treated with antibiotics. If a viral infection caused tonsillitis, there’s no specific medicine to treat it.

There are ways to relieve symptoms of tonsillitis at home. They include:

  • getting plenty of rest;
  • drinking enough fluids;
  • eating soft foods that are easy to swallow, such as applesauce, ice cream, or mashed potatoes;
  • gargling the throat with warm salt water;
  • sucking on lozenges (strictly for children older than 4);
  • adults may take pain medicines such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, but you should consult a doctor before giving any pain relievers to your child.

Surgery to remove the tonsils (tonsillectomy) is recommended if tonsillitis is recurrent or chronic, doesn’t respond to other treatments, or causes difficulty swallowing and breathing.

Source: Mayo Clinic, HealthLine, MedicineNet, WebMD

READ ALSO: Flu: When To Treat It At Home And When To Call A Doctor


This article is purely for informational purposes. Do not self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information stated in the article.

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