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Definition Return to top
Tonsillitis is inflammation (swelling) of the tonsils.
See also: Sore throat
Causes Return to top
The tonsils are lymph nodes in the back of the mouth and top of the throat. They normally help to filter out bacteria and other microorganisms to prevent infection in the body.
They may become so overwhelmed by bacterial or viral infection that they swell and become inflamed, causing tonsillitis. The infection may also be present in the throat and surrounding areas, causing inflammation of the pharynx. The pharynx is in the back of the throat, between the tonsils and the voicebox (larynx). See: Pharyngitis
Tonsillitis is extremely common, particularly in children.
Symptoms Return to top
Exams and Tests Return to top
The health care provider will look in the mouth and throat for swollen tonsils. The tonsils are usually reddened and may have white spots on them. The lymph nodes in the jaw and neck may be swollen and tender to the touch.
Tests that may be done include:
Treatment Return to top
If the cause of the tonsillitis is bacteria such as strep, antibiotics are given to cure the infection. The antibiotics may be given once as a shot, or taken for 10 days by mouth.
If antibiotic pills are used, they must be taken for entire amount of time prescribed by the doctor. DO NOT stop taking them just because the discomfort stops, or the infection may not be cured.
Rest to allow the body to heal. Fluids, especially warm (not hot), bland fluids or very cold fluids may soothe the throat. Gargle with warm salt water or suck on lozenges (containing benzocaine or similar ingredients) to reduce pain.
Over-the-counter medications may be used to reduce pain and fever. Do NOT give a child aspirin. Aspirin has been linked to Reye syndrome.
Surgery to remove the tonsils (tonsillectomy) may be necessary for some people who have repeated infections.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Tonsillitis symptoms usually improve 2 or 3 days after treatment starts. The infection usually is cured after treatment is completed, but some people may need more than one course of antibiotics.
Complications of untreated strep tonsillitis may be severe. Children with tonsillitis related to strep-throat or pharyngitis should generally be kept home from school or daycare until they have been on antibiotics for 24 hours. This helps reduce the spread of illness.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if:
References Return to top
Wetmore RF. Tonsils and adenoids. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 380.Update Date: 12/1/2008 Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.