Tonsillitis is an infection of your tonsils, two masses of tissue at the back of your throat. Your tonsils act as filters, trapping germs that could otherwise enter your airways and cause infection.

Causes of Tonsillitis

Bacterial and viral infections cause tonsillitis. A common cause is Streptococcus (strep) bacteria, which can also cause strep throat.

Other common causes include:

  • Adenoviruses

  • Influenza virus

  • Epstein-Barr virus

  • Parainfluenza viruses

  • Enteroviruses

  • Herpes simplex virus

Symptoms of Tonsillitis

  • Throat pain or tenderness

  • Fever

  • Red tonsils

  • A white or yellow coating on your tonsils

  • Painful blisters or ulcers on your throat

  • Headache

  • Loss of appetite

  • Ear pain

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Swollen glands in your neck or jaw

  • Fever and chills

  • Bad breath

  • A scratchy or muffled voice

  • Stiff neck

Diagnosis of Tonsillitis

A throat swab

Your doctor will test saliva and cells from your throat for strep bacteria. They’ll run a cotton swab along the back of your throat. This might be uncomfortable but won’t hurt. Results are usually ready in 10 or 15 minutes. Sometimes, your doctor will also want a lab test that takes a couple of days. If these tests are negative, a virus is what caused your tonsillitis.

A blood test

Your doctor may call this a complete blood cell count (CBC). It looks for high and low numbers of blood cells to show whether a virus or bacteria caused your tonsillitis.


Your doctor will check for scarlatina, a rash linked to strep throat infection.

Treatment of Tonsillitis


If your tests find bacteria, you’ll get antibiotics. Your doctor might give you these drugs in a one-time injection or in pills that you’ll swallow for several days. You’ll start to feel better within 2 or 3 days, but it’s important to take all of your medication.

Home remedies

If you have a virus, antibiotics won’t help, and your body will fight the infection on its own. In the meantime, you can try some home remedies:

  • Get lots of rest

  • Drink warm or very cold fluids to help with throat pain

  • Eat smooth foods, such as flavored gelatins, ice cream, and applesauce

  • Use a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier in your room

  • Gargle with warm salt water

  • Suck on lozenges with benzocaine or other medications to numb your throat

  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen

Tonsillectomy surgery

  • Tonsils are an important part of your immune system, so your doctor will try to help you keep them.

  • But if your tonsillitis keeps coming back or won’t go away, or if swollen tonsils make it hard for you to breathe or eat, you might need to have your tonsils taken out.

  • This surgery is called tonsillectomy.

  • Tonsillectomy used to be a very common treatment.

  • But now, doctors only recommend it if tonsillitis keeps coming back.

  • That means you or your child has tonsillitis more than seven times in one year, more than four or five times a year for the past two years, or more than three times a year for the past three years.

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