What is Tonsillitis?

Normally, we have two tonsils located in the back of our throats, one on each side. Your tonsils act as one of the first lines of defense for your body's ability to prevent infection. Tonsillitis occurs when one or both of your tonsils becomes infected with bacteria or viruses, such as with strep throat.

Causes of Tonsillitis

As stated, your tonsils act as the first line of defense against bacteria and viruses that enter your body through your mouth. The numerous white blood cells produced and located in the tonsils are what helps to fight infection. However, due to their near constant contact with food and air that contains bacteria or viruses, the tonsils can become infected.

Tonsillitis is most commonly caused by viral infections, which are usually resolved on their own, or with over-the-counter medications in about one week. Bacterial infections, such as with strep throat, can also cause tonsillitis and are normally treated with prescribed medications such as antibiotics.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Tonsillitis

The symptoms most often associated with tonsillitis can include the following:

  • Sore throat
  • An itchy, raspy, or hoarse voice
  • White or yellow spots on the tonsils
  • Tonsils appearing swollen or dark red
  • Swallowing difficulties including painful swallowing
  • Fever, Headaches, stomachaches, and earaches
  • Foul smelling breath
  • Fever or chills
  • Tenderness in or around the jaw and neck
  • A stiff neck

Diagnosis of tonsillitis will usually involve a review of the symptoms and a physical examination. The examination typically involves using a light or lighted mirror to take a closer look at the tonsils, mouth, tongue, and throat area to look for signs of infection. It will also include listening to your breathing with a stethoscope, feeling the neck area for swollen lymph nodes, and potentially taking a sample to test for different infections.

Treatments for Tonsillitis

If the tonsillitis is the result of the more common viral infection, it will usually be resolved with at-home care including over-the-counter remedies and/or rest within about one week. Common at-home care techniques include the following:

  • Drinking sufficient water
  • Consuming warm foods/beverages such as soup
  • Gargling with saltwater
  • Increase the humidity of the air with a humidifier in your home
  • Use of lozenges or cough drops

If your tonsillitis is the result of a bacterial infection, your ENT specialist will typically prescribe antibiotics, such as penicillin. If you are affected by chronic or recurring tonsillitis, it may be recommended that you have your tonsils surgically removed.

All information provided on this website is for information purposes only. Please see a healthcare professional for medical advice. If you are seeking this information in an emergency situation, please call 911 and seek emergency help.

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