Tonsillitis

What is tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is an inflammatory condition of the tonsils. It can be either caused by infection with bacteria or viruses. A sore throat and swallowing difficulties are among the main symptoms. Usually, tonsillitis is a temporary condition which lasts for about a week. Anti-inflammatory medicines (such as ibuprofen) are helpful in reducing pain and swelling. Bacterial infections might need treatment with antibiotics. Proper treatment usually leads to total recovery, but can take up to 10 days.

Risks

Tonsillitis can affect people of every age, but children tend to get tonsillitis more often. It is very often caused by common viruses (cold or flu viruses) and sometimes by viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus (infective mononucleosis, also known as mono or glandular fever), croup or hand-foot-and-mouth disease. Tonsillitis is often caused by bacteria, especially in children. The most common bacteria that infects the tonsils is streptococcus (strep throat). Symptoms are caused by infection of the tonsils causing swelling and pain.

Symptoms

Typical symptoms are a sore throat, swelling and pain when swallowing. The lining of the throat may be red with yellow or white patches. Some people also develop headache and a fever. Some people may develop also a rash, muscle pain or belly pain. These symptoms should be reviewed by a doctor. Rare but serious symptoms include drooling, difficulty breathing and swelling of the neck. These symptoms are signs of a complication and should be reviewed urgently by a doctor.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is usually made by assessing the symptoms and examining the throat. It may be necessary to have a blood test or to take a sample of mucus from the tonsils to test for specific causes of tonsillitis.

Treatment

The choice of treatment mostly depends on the cause (i.e. whether bacterial or viral). Anti-inflammatory medicines (such as ibuprofen) are helpful in reducing pain and swelling. Many people also eat cold, soft food to reduce their symptoms. If the condition is caused by bacteria, the treatment may involve antibiotics. Surgical removal of the tonsils may be required if the infections are persistent or recurrent.

Prevention

Taking care to prevent the spread of colds or the flu in the home and community can help prevent some cases of tonsillitis. People with tonsillitis, especially children, should avoid school or day care until their symptoms begin to improve.