Tonsils are the elliptical shaped pink masses of tissue on either side at the back of throat. They trap the germs and bacteria that enter through the nose and mouth, and protect you from infection.

Inflammation of these tonsils is called as tonsillitis, and occurs when the tonsils become infected by virus or by bacteria. This makes your tonsils to become red, swollen, and painful. Generally, whenever you have a sore throat, you may have tonsillitis too.

In 15%-30% of the cases, tonsillitis is caused by streptococcus (or strep) bacteria and it is termed as “strep throat”. In the remaining cases, viruses cause tonsillitis. Tonsillitis is contagious and spreads when the person infected sneezes or coughs or when the nasal fluids come into contact.

A few tonsillitis symptoms are:

  • Tonsillitis mostly affects children and teens. The tonsils become swollen, inflamed or red and can have a yellow or white coating.
  • Tonsillitis causes sore throat and you may have pain or problems associated with swallowing.
  • Voice may become muffled or rough or hoarse.
  • You may also have foul breath and breathing problems in the night.
  • Tonsillitis usually causes elevated body temperature or chills
  • The glands (lymph nodes) in the neck become enlarged.
  • There could be pain in the neck, head or ears.
  • In addition, young children may have pain in the stomach.

You should visit a doctor if your child is having persistent sore throat for more than two days, pain or difficulty in swallowing and looks tired and exhausted. Immediate medical attention is required if the child has breathing problems extreme difficulty in swallowing and has profuse salivation.

If you are an adult, you should get in touch with your doctor if you have constant sore throat for more than two days with a body temperature higher than 1030F, a rigid neck and weakness.

Diagnosis of tonsillitis is done based on the examination of your throat, tonsils, nose, and ears.

The doctor may ask about the medical history. The doctor may also examine your neck for any swollen glands, and check your breathing for any problems.

The doctor may take sample of the swab from the back of your throat to conduct culture test required to confirm whether the tonsils are infected by streptococcus bacteria. The results may take more than 24 hours.

In some cases, blood test, called complete blood cell count (CBC) may be required to know whether there are any changes in the cells of the blood, and to confirm the presence of any other infective organism causing the infection of the tonsillitis.

Generally, CBC is carried out when throat swab test for strep throat is negative.

If the tonsillitis is caused by virus, treatment with antibiotics is not effective. Usually, the symptoms disappear within 10 days. Your doctor may advise taking adequate rest.

Persuade your child to take plenty of rest, not to exert and strain to speak much. Ensure that your child takes plenty of fluids to keep the throat moist and avoid dehydration.

Warm liquids are preferable such as tea or warm water with honey, and cold fruit juice snacks to sooth sore throat.

If your child can gargle, then sore throat can be relieved by making your child gargle warm salt water (1 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of warm water).

If possible, do not expose your child to dry air and keep the air as humid as possible so that irritation to the sore throat can be avoided.

In children above the age of 4 years who can suck, lozenges may help to relieve sore throat.

Irritants such as cigarette smoke or fumes or chemicals must be avoided not to irritate your child. If your child is having pain, headaches or high fever, you may use certain pain killers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve throat pain and fever. It is always advisable to consult your doctor.

If the tonsillitis is caused by bacterial infection, then your doctor may prescribe antibiotics which need to be taken regularly as advised by the doctor.

If the tonsillitis does not respond to the antibiotics or occurs frequently, then your doctor may advise removal of tonsils through a minor surgery which is called tonsillectomy.

Tonsillectomy takes just a day (outpatient surgery) and your child recovers within 10 days.

If the tonsillitis is not properly treated, it may result in pus formation in the tonsils and in such cases, the pus needs to be drained and tonsils need to be removed surgically.

Tonsillitis is contagious. It can be prevented if these precautions are followed.

  • Washing the hands and utensils properly
  • Avoid contact with people who are already infected and have tonsillitis
  • Avoid sneezing directly in the presence of others and use an obstruction such as tissue or handkerchief when you need to sneeze or cough.
  • Avoid public places such as schools or office unless the doctor advises
  • Avoid sharing food, utensils or glasses
  • Maintain personal hygiene

Tonsillitis is the inflammation of the tonsils and can be caused either by virus or by bacteria. The usual symptoms of tonsillitis include sore throat, swelling of tonsils, pain while swallowing or drinking.

If tonsillitis is caused by virus, there is no need for treating with antibiotics. The symptoms disappear within 10 days. If the tonsillitis is recurring and does not respond to antibiotics, surgical removal of the tonsils may be advised.

Tonsillitis can be prevented by taking simple precautions to avoid exposure to the infected people and avoid exposing others to the spread of the infection.