ENT health


Written by
Dr. K Sneha
and medically reviewed by Syed Tehmid

04 Mar 2019  -  3 min read



The inflammation that results due to the infection of tonsils is called tonsillitis. It is a common childhood infection. The usual symptoms are fever, throat pain, and enlarged tonsils.

What is Tonsillitis?

The inflammation that results due to the infection of tonsils is called tonsillitis. It is a common childhood infection. The usual symptoms are fever, throat pain, and enlarged tonsils. The bacteria and viruses causing tonsillitis are very contagious, so frequent handwashing can help prevent the spread of this infection.

What are Tonsils?

Tonsils are two oval and pea-sized collection of lymph cells at either side of the opening of the throat. They appear larger in children and tend to shrink in size as the person grows older. They prevent foreign objects from entering the lungs and filter out bacteria and viruses.

According to recent researches, they also help the immune system by producing white blood cells and antibodies. Previously, they were thought to be of no use, but now it is believed to be the first line of defense of the immune system.

How Do Tonsils Get Inflamed?

Viral infection is the primary cause of tonsillitis in younger children. The most common bacteria causing tonsillitis is Streptococcal bacteria, which causes strep throat, which is usually seen in kids between 5 and 15 years of age. Tonsils are vulnerable to the bacteria and viruses that they prevent from entering the body. Tonsillitis is rarely seen in adults because the role it plays in immunity declines after puberty.

Tonsillitis is also caused by the Influenza virus, which causes cold and flu, and also Ebstein-Barr virus, that causes infectious mononucleosis. The other viruses include adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, enterovirus, and herpes simplex virus. Exposure to any of this microorganism through personal contact causes inflammation of the tonsils.

What are the Types of Tonsillitis?

The three types of tonsillitis are:

  • Acute - It is a severe form of tonsillitis that lasts from 3 to 4 days to 2 weeks.

  • Recurrent - More than 2 to 3 episodes of acute tonsillitis a year.

  • Chronic - Here, the symptoms like sore throat and bad breath last for a longer time than acute tonsillitis.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Tonsillitis?

Some of the signs and symptoms that are seen in tonsillitis are:

  • Sore throat.

Toddlers with tonsillitis become fussy, refuse to eat, and drool due to pain and difficulty swallowing.

When to Take Your Child to the Doctor?

Seek immediate medical attention in the following situations:

  • When the swelling of the tonsils causes difficulty in breathing.

  • Fever more than 103℉.

  • Neck stiffness.

  • Muscle weakness.

  • If the soreness in the throat is not better after two days.

How Is Tonsillitis Diagnosed?

If your child is exhibiting the above signs and symptoms, then it is best you take him to your physician. The doctor will ask you about the child's symptoms other medical histories. Then the doctor will examine your child’s throat to look for swelling or redness or white spots on the tonsils, and he or she will also look at the nose and the ear.

The doctor might look for other signs like skin rashes, which is associated with strep throat. If needed, the doctor will order a throat swab and complete blood count (CBC).

Tonsillitis Treatment

If tonsillitis is caused by bacteria, then the doctor will prescribe antibiotics and other home remedies will make your child comfortable and help in the fast recovery. If it is caused by a virus, then your child will feel better within 10 days with the help of home remedies and other palliative care.

Tonsillitis Home Remedies

  • Get plenty of rest.

  • Prevent dehydration by drinking a lot of fluids and water.

  • Drinking warm soup or tea will help soothe a sore throat.

  • Gargle with warm saline water 3 to 4 times daily.

  • Use throat lozenges.

  • A cool-air humidifier can help eliminate dry air, which might aggravate a sore throat.

  • Avoid smoking.

  • Your doctor might prescribe painkillers like Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen to control fever and relieve pain.


In case of a bacterial infection, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics for you. Usually, for strep throat, Penicillin is given for 10 days. If you are allergic to Penicillin, then your doctor will prescribe some alternative antibiotic. The course of antibiotics should be completed, as a failure to do so might cause the infection to spread which might affect the kidneys and cause other complications.

Tonsillectomy Surgery:

Tonsillectomy is the surgery done to remove tonsils. It is indicated for recurring, chronic, and bacterial tonsillitis that does not respond to antibiotics. Surgery is also done if tonsillitis results in other complications like obstructive sleep apnea, difficulty breathing and swallowing, and peritonsillar abscess.

What Are the Complications of Tonsillitis?

The complications due to swelling and infection of tonsils and strep throat are:

  1. Obstructive sleep apnea.

  2. Tonsillar cellulitis.

  3. Peritonsillar abscess.

  4. Difficulty breathing.

  5. Rheumatic fever.

  6. Poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis.

How to Prevent Tonsillitis and Other Infections?

Infections from contagious microorganisms can be prevented from spreading by following good hygiene. Some of the tips to prevent the spread of diseases are:

  • Wash your hands frequently and adequately.

  • Stay away from someone who has a sore throat.

  • Do not share utensils and food.

  • Replace your child’s toothbrush if he or she has tonsillitis.

  • If you are already infected, stay at home and rest.

  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.

The symptoms caused by tonsillitis should improve after a couple of days of taking medicines and rest. If you find it difficult to breathe and your symptoms get worse, consult an ENT-otolaryngologist online through phone or video consultation.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Long Does Tonsillitis Last?

Different types of tonsillitis last for different periods. Viral tonsillitis gets better in some days, strep throat takes a couple of weeks, and mononucleosis can take weeks to months. Chronic tonsillitis might last for a long time and keeps coming back.


How To Treat Tonsillitis?

Viral tonsillitis does not require any treatment, and it gets better with home remedies and rest. For bacterial tonsillitis, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics. You can also use painkillers. And for recurrent tonsillitis, tonsillectomy (surgical removal of tonsils) is done.


What Does Tonsillitis Look Like?

Tonsillitis results in inflamed tonsils, which can be seen at the back of the tongue. The tonsils will look red and swollen. You might be able to see pus or white spots on them. Sometimes, the tonsils might be covered with a whitish coating.


How Do You Get Tonsillitis?

A viral infection causes most cases of tonsillitis. The commonly responsible viruses are the Influenza virus, Ebstein-Barr virus, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and enterovirus. Bacterial infections can also cause tonsillitis, amongst which infection with Streptococcus bacteria is the most common.


How Long Does Tonsillitis Last If Untreated?

Viral tonsillitis if left untreated might get better within a week or two. But the chances of bacterial tonsillitis getting better on its own is slim. If left untreated, it can result in complications like tonsillar cellulitis, peritonsillar abscess, rheumatic fever, and obstructive sleep apnea.


How To Prevent Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis can be prevented by preventing the spread of the causative microorganisms. This spread can be prevented by maintaining good personal hygiene.


Can Tonsillitis Make You Sick?

Yes, tonsillitis can make you sick as it results in sore throat, muscle pain, difficulty swallowing, fever, ear pain, nausea, and difficulty opening your mouth.


How Do You Cure Tonsillitis Fast?

Tonsillitis can be cured with proper rest, drinking a lot of fluids, and taking all your prescribed medicines on time. If your tonsils keep getting inflamed, consider getting it removed surgically (tonsillectomy).


How Painful Is Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis can be very painful. It makes your throat very sore, and you will find it difficult to open your mouth or swallow. Sometimes, it can also make the lymph nodes enlarged and painful.


Can Tonsillitis Be Caused By Stress?

Stress can weaken your immune system, which makes the body susceptible to viral and bacterial infection. This infection might cause sore throat and inflammation of your tonsils.

Last reviewed at:
04 Mar 2019  -  3 min read



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