Tonsillitis: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Overview

Tonsillitis is an inflammation or swelling of the tonsils. Tonsils are the two lymph nodes located on each side of the back of the throat. They function as a defense mechanism, which can help prevent the body from infection. Tonsillitis is contagious and can be caused by a viral infection or, less commonly, a bacterial infection. Tonsillitis is common in children, teenagers and young adults. The condition can occur occasionally or recur frequently.

Causes

Tonsillitis is most often caused by common viruses, but bacterial infections can also be the cause. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), it is estimated that 15 to 30 percent of tonsillitis cases are due to bacteria, especially strep bacteria, which can cause strep throat.

Common viruses that may cause tonsillitis include:

  • Adenoviruses
  • Influenza virus
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Parainfluenza viruses
  • Enteroviruses
  • Herpes simplex virus

Symptoms

The main symptoms of tonsillitis are inflammation and swelling of the tonsils. Other common signs and symptoms include:

  • Throat pain or tenderness
  • Difficulty swallowing or painful swallowing
  • A scratchy-sounding voice
  • Redness of the tonsils
  • Tonsils that have white or yellow spots
  • Bad breath
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Stiff neck
  • Ear pain
  • Stomachaches
  • Headaches

Diagnosis

To diagnose tonsillitis, the doctor will start with a physical examination by using a lighted instrument to look at the patient’s throat, ears and nose for any abnormalities, and gently feeling the neck to check for lymph nodes. The doctor will also listen to the patient’s breathing with a stethoscope.

  • Throat swab

In this test, the doctor rubs a sterile swab over the back of the patient’s throat to get a sample of secretions. The sample will be checked in the clinic or in a lab for streptococcal bacteria. If the result is positive, then you may have a bacterial infection. If the result is negative, then you may have a viral infection.

  • Complete blood cell count (CBC)

The doctor may order a CBC with a small sample of the patient’s blood. Generally, a CBC is not often needed to diagnose strep throat. However, if the strep throat lab test is negative, the CBC may be needed to help determine the cause of tonsillitis.

Treatment

  • Antibiotics

If tonsillitis is caused by a bacterial infection, the doctor will prescribe a course of oral antibiotics. Penicillin is the most common antibiotic treatment for tonsillitis caused by group A streptococcus. It is necessary to take the full course of antibiotics, otherwise it may result in the infection worsening or spreading to other parts of the body. If oral antibiotics are not effective, intravenous antibiotics may be needed in hospital.

If the tonsillitis is caused by a virus, antibiotics won’t work and usually your body will fight off the infection on its own. But you can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to help relieve pain, drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest to reduce symptoms.

  • Surgery

A small number of cases have tonsillitis for longer, or it keeps returning. This is known as chronic tonsillitis and surgical treatment may be needed. A tonsillectomy is a common surgery for tonsillitis. Tonsillectomy is usually done as an outpatient procedure.


Keywords: tonsillitis.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.