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Tonsillitis: Causes, Types, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment

Tonsils, which are made up of tissues are located at the back of your throat. Tonsils are a part of the lymphatic system, which helps prevent and fight against infections. When tonsils become infected, the condition is called tonsillitis. In this article, we will talk about what causes tonsillitis, what are its symptoms, and how to treat it.

What Causes Tonsillitis [1]

Tonsillitis occurs when there is an inflammation of the tonsils either caused by a bacteria or virus. Streptococcus pyogenes, a type of bacterium is the most common cause of tonsillitis that causes strep throat. Tonsillitis is also caused by a virus that causes common cold, however, other viruses such as rhinovirus, HIV, hepatitis A and Epstein-Barr virus also cause tonsillitis.

Tonsillitis caused by bacteria is common among children aged between 5-15 [2]


Types Of Tonsillitis

  • Acute tonsillitis - This type of tonsillitis can either be caused by a bacteria or virus and the symptoms usually stay till 3-4 days or sometimes up to two weeks.
  • Recurrent tonsillitis - When tonsillitis occurs several times in a year [3]
  • Chronic tonsillitis - This type of tonsillitis is long-term, which causes symptoms like sore throat and foul-smelling breath [4]

Symptoms Of Tonsillitis

  • Red, swollen tonsils
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Headache
  • Coughing
  • Ear and neck pain
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Chills
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • A white or yellow coating on your tonsils
  • Stiff neck

Risk Factors Of Tonsillitis

  • Young age - Tonsillitis caused by bacteria most commonly affects younger children aged 5-15.
  • Exposure to germs - School-going children have a higher risk of getting tonsillitis because they are frequently exposed to bacteria or viruses.

Complications Of Tonsillitis

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Sleep apnea
  • Infection spreading deep into surrounding tissues.
  • The formation of pus behind a tonsil resulting in infection.

When To See A Doctor

If you experience any of the above symptoms, consult a doctor immediately. Also, if you have a sore throat that doesn't go down within 24 to 48 hours, having difficulty in swallowing, and having extreme weakness consult a doctor.


Diagnosis Of Tonsillitis

Diagnosis is done by physically examining your throat to check if there are swollen glands or a rash. The doctor may then take a throat culture by running a cotton swab at the back of your throat and will be sent for examination.

Your doctor may then take a blood test to check whether a virus or bacteria caused your tonsillitis.

Treatment Of Tonsillitis


If tonsillitis is caused by bacteria, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection. It will help relieve your symptoms and will aid in faster recovery.

Penicillin, an antibiotic is usually prescribed for the treatment of tonsillitis caused by Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. If you are allergic to penicillin, your doctor will prescribe other antibiotics.


If tonsillitis is not getting cured with the help of antibiotics, then surgery is recommended to remove the tonsils, which is called tonsillectomy. It is generally recommended for recurrent or chronic tonsillitis and when the symptoms are not going away.

Tonsillectomy is also performed when you have breathing difficulty, obstructive sleep apnea, and swallowing difficulty. The recovery after surgery usually takes one to two weeks.

Tonsillectomy lowers the overall risk of developing a strep throat.

Prevention Of Tonsillitis

  • Stay away from people who have infections
  • Wash your hands often
  • Avoid sharing food, utensils, drink or any kind of personal items with anyone.
  • Practice good hygiene habits with your children.

Common FAQs

How do you catch tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is spread to another person through tiny droplets in the air when the infected person is coughing or sneezing.

Can you catch tonsillitis by kissing?

Tonsillitis can be transmitted if you kiss someone who is affected with this infection.

How painful is tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis often causes sore throat, which can be very painful because the glands become red and swollen. In some cases, the tonsils are coated with pus, making it more painful.

How serious is tonsillitis in adults?

If tonsillitis is left untreated it may lead to peritonsillar abscess, a bacterial infection that occurs when pus is formed near your tonsils.

What should you not eat when you have tonsillitis?

Crunchy and hard foods, dry crackers, nuts, and raw vegetables should not be eaten.

How do you cure tonsillitis fast?

Tonsillitis can be cured fast with the help of certain home remedies like drinking plenty of warm liquids, gargling with salt water, eating soft foods, getting plenty of rest and avoiding spicy foods.

Story first published: Saturday, February 29, 2020, 18:30 [IST]