Tonsillitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment And All You Need To Know

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Tonsillitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment And All You Need To Know

Tonsils serve as a defence mechanism to prevent infections in the body. 

Tonsillitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment And All You Need To Know

Image Source: Dinodia

Tonsils are two small lumps of soft tissue located at the back of your throat, one on each side. By opening your mouth and sticking out your tongue, you can observe your tonsils in a mirror.

When an infection occurs in the tonsils, it results in a condition known as tonsillitis. Tonsillitis can affect individuals of any age, but it is particularly common among children, ranging from preschoolers to mid-teens. Typical symptoms of tonsillitis include swollen tonsils, fever, and a sore throat. Tonsillitis can have various causes and is highly contagious. However, it can be easily diagnosed and, with proper management, can be cured within approximately 10 days.

While most cases of tonsillitis are caused by viral infections, bacterial infections can also lead to tonsillitis. To ensure appropriate treatment, it is crucial to receive a prompt and accurate diagnosis for tonsillitis. In the past, surgical removal of the tonsils was a common procedure used to treat tonsillitis. However, nowadays, this surgery is typically reserved for cases where tonsillitis occurs frequently, does not respond to other treatments, or causes severe complications.

Types of tonsillitis

Tonsillitis can develop in various forms, distinguished by their symptoms and duration of recovery. The following types are recognized by medical professionals:

  • Acute tonsillitis: Typically lasts for approximately 3–4 days, but can persist for up to 2 weeks.

  • Recurrent tonsillitis: Recurrent tonsillitis refers to the condition where a person encounters several episodes of acute tonsillitis within a span of one year.

  • Chronic tonsillitis: Characterised by a persistent sore throat and offensive breath odour.

Causes of Tonsillitis

The primary role of the tonsils is to serve as the initial defence mechanism against illnesses. They generate white blood cells that assist the body in combating infections. Tonsils play a crucial role in fighting off bacteria and viruses that enter the body via the mouth and nose. However, despite their protective function, tonsils themselves can become susceptible to infections caused by the very pathogens they work to keep at bay.

Various factors can lead to tonsillitis, including viral infections like the common cold and bacterial infections such as strep throat.

Symptoms of Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis may develop with the following symptoms:

  1. Intense throat pain

  2. Discomfort or pain when swallowing

  3. Hoarse or scratchy voice

  4. Unpleasant breath

  5. Fever

  6. Chills

  7. Earache

  8. Stomachache

  9. Headache

  10. Stiff neck

  11. Jaw and neck tenderness caused by swollen lymph nodes

  12. Red and swollen tonsils

  13. Presence of white or yellow spots on the tonsils

  14. In infants and toddlers, additional signs may include heightened irritability, decreased appetite, or excessive drooling.

Treatment of Tonsillitis

Mild cases of tonsillitis typically do not require treatment, particularly if it is caused by a viral infection like a common cold. For more severe cases of tonsillitis, treatment options may involve the use of antibiotics or a surgical procedure known as a tonsillectomy. In cases where dehydration occurs as a result of tonsillitis, intravenous fluids may be necessary. Additionally, pain medications can be administered to alleviate the discomfort of a sore throat and aid in the healing process.


Tonsillectomy, the surgical removal of the tonsils, is recommended by physicians primarily in cases of chronic or recurrent tonsillitis, or when complications arise or symptoms persist despite treatment.

If you have experienced tonsillitis or strep throat at least 5 to 7 times within the past year, a tonsillectomy may be advised to prevent further recurrences. This procedure can also alleviate difficulties in breathing or swallowing associated with tonsillitis.


In cases where tonsillitis is caused by a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to combat the infection. Antibiotics can help alleviate your symptoms slightly faster, but they also carry the risk of antibiotic resistance and potential side effects such as an upset stomach. Antibiotics are particularly important for individuals who are at a higher risk of complications from tonsillitis.

If your doctor decides to prescribe antibiotics, the usual choice for tonsillitis caused by group A streptococcus is penicillin. However, alternative antibiotics are available if you have a penicillin allergy.


Enlarged tonsils can result in difficulty breathing and disrupt sleep patterns. If left untreated, the pathogens responsible for tonsillitis can extend to the region behind the tonsils or the nearby tissue. When tonsillitis is caused by a bacterial infection, symptoms typically show improvement within a few days of starting antibiotic treatment. It is important to note that the infection remains contagious until a full 24-hour period of antibiotic intake has passed.

Disclaimer: The above content is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for the advice of a qualified physician or doctor. The Company does not vouch for or endorse any of the above content, and disclaims any and all warranties, express or implied, relating to the same.