What is Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is the inflammation of tonsils and it can occur at any age.


Tonsil is the two lymph nodes (oval-shaped pads of tissue) at the back of the throat. It’s the immune system’s first line of defense against bacteria and viruses that enter the body through the mouth. It produces white blood cells to help the body fights infection. Once a bacterium enters or a virus infects the tonsil, this results to tonsillitis as tonsils are also vulnerable from the mentioned invaders.

Tonsillitis is the inflammation of tonsils and it can occur at any age, nevertheless, it is most common to children between preschool ages and the mid-teenage years. In other words, children aged between 5 and 15 are who are most prone to tonsillitis because they are frequently in close contact with their peers and frequently exposed to viruses or bacteria that may cause tonsillitis.

Common viruses such as the common cold causes tonsillitis, but bacterial infection such as strep throat can also be the cause.

Viruses are the most common cause of tonsillitis. The Epstein-Barr virus is the first on the list of the viruses to cause it. The same virus also causes mononucleosis.

On the other hand, the most common bacterium to cause tonsillitis is the Streptococcus pyogenes (group A streptococcus) which are responsible for strep throats. However, other strains of strep and other bacteria may also cause tonsillitis.

Tonsillitis Symptoms

According to an article, tonsillitis have several types and there are many possible signs and symptoms that can include:

  • Sore throat
  • Red, swollen tonsils
  • Painful swallowing
  • A scratchy, muffled or throaty voice
  • White or yellow coating or patches on the tonsils
  • Enlarged, tender glands (lymph nodes) in the jaw or neck
  • Stomachache particularly in children
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Bad breath
  • Fever
  • Earaches

There are two types of tonsillitis: chronic and recurrent. Recurrent tonsillitis is a multiple episodes of acute tonsillitis a year; while chronic tonsillitis referred to episodes that last longer than acute tonsillitis. Additional symptoms to chronic tonsillitis include chronic sore throat, halitosis or bad breath, and tender lymph nodes in the neck and/or jaw.

So, when is the best time to contact your doctor?

It is important to have an accurate diagnosis and diagnosis is based on physical examination. Though doctors do diagnostic test by taking throat culture and sending to the laboratory for examination. This is done by gently swabbing the back of the throat. The doctors will identify the cause of the throat infection after examining the throat culture.

However, if you haven’t met with the family doctor yet, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Fever that is higher than 103 degrees Fahrenheit (or 39.5 degree Celsius)
  • Sore throat that doesn’t go away within 24 to 48 hours
  • Muscle weakness and neck stiffness
  • Difficult or painful swallowing

On the other hand, you may notice young children who are unable to describe how they feel the following symptoms:

  • Excessive drooling due to difficult or painful swallowing
  • Refusal to eat
  • Unusual fussiness

If you or your children experience these symptoms, see a doctor.

Tonsillitis Complications

Inflammation or swelling of the tonsils from chronic tonsillitis can cause complications such as obstructive sleep apnea or the disrupted breathing during sleep. This happens when the airways swell and prevent a person from sleeping well. This may possibly spread to the other areas of the body if the infection will be worse.

The infection is known as tonsillar cellulitis. It can cause a person to develop a build-up of pus behind the tonsils—known as peritonsillar abscess. This can require drainage and more surgery.

If a patient who has tonsillitis that is caused by group A streptococcus or another strain of streptococcal bacteria doesn’t take a full course of antibiotics, or if the antibiotics don’t kill the bacteria off, the patient could possibly develop complications. These are the rare disorders rheumatic fever and post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis.

Rheumatic fever refers to the inflammatory disorder that affects the heart, joints and other tissues. Poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis, on the hand, refers to the inflammatory disorder of the kidneys resulting in inadequate removal of waste and excess fluids from the blood.

Tonsillitis Treatment

Prevention is still much better than any other treatment. Did you know that the germ that causes viral and bacterial tonsillitis is contagious? So, to decrease the risk of getting this condition or prevent spreading the germs, it is good to practice and teach children good hygiene.

  • Wash hands thoroughly and frequently after, especially after using the toilet and before eating; or wash hands if you have contact with someone who has a sore throat or is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid sharing food, utensils, drinking glasses or water bottles.
  • Replace the patient’s toothbrush after being diagnosed with tonsillitis.
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or, when necessary, into an elbow.

It is also advisable to stay away from a patient who has active infections; or if it the other way around, the patient should stay away from others until the patient is no longer contagious. The patient should also wash his or her hands after sneezing or coughing.

But if a person is already infected and have the condition, you should not worry too much about it, most especially if it is a mild case. Virus infection, such as of a cold, does not necessarily require treatment. Severe cases, on the other hand, may include antibiotics or a tonsillectomy.

Antibiotics will be prescribed to fight bacterial infection. It is important to complete the full course of antibiotics or it may cause complications as mentioned earlier.

Tonsillectomy is the surgery to remove the tonsils. This is only recommended for people who have chronic or recurrent tonsillitis. Surgery is also recommended if there is no response to other treatment or if it causes complications

Here are some home care tips:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Get lots of rest
  • Use throat lozenges
  • Gargle warm water with salt several times a day
  • Avoid smoke
  • Use humidifier to moisten the air in your home


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