Tonsils are a pair of round, red balls at the back of your throat, on each side, whose primary responsibility is to act as the body's first line of defense. Tonsils trap bacteria, viruses, etc., that come through the oral cavity and initiate an immune response after recognizing them. 

When tonsils become infected, the condition is called tonsillitis. 

Tonsillitis is an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) that usually involves your nose, sinuses, pharynx (throat), and larynx (voice box).  Tonsillitis is caused by bacterial or viral infections. While it is very common in children, tonsilitis can occur at any age. Tonsillitis is not a very serious condition and if acute, the symptoms usually go away within 10 days.

Causes of Tonsillitis

  • Viral tonsillitis is caused by a virus. The same viruses that cause the cold (rhinovirus) or the flu (influenza virus) are also responsible for causing tonsillitis. Some other viruses that cause tonsillitis are Hepatitis A and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). 

  • Bacterial tonsillitis is caused by bacteria; the most common one being group A Streptococcus bacteria

Signs and Symptoms of Tonsillitis

  • Sore throat 

  • Reluctance to eat or drink due to pain while swallowing 

  • Disturbed or poor sleep

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Headaches

  • Stomach ache or vomiting

  • Mood swings

In some cases, bad breath and loss of voice can be present if tonsillitis is severe.

However difficult it may be, it is important that a person with tonsillitis should eat properly or else it will lead to malnutrition. Also, drinking enough water is important to avoid dehydration. Swollen tonsils can cause an obstruction in your sleep, causing fatigue, high blood pressure, mood swings, depression, heart attack, strokes, etc.

Classification of Tonsillitis Based on Recurrence

Tonsillitis is divided into 3 different categories depending on the recurrence of tonsillitis and its duration:

1. Acute tonsillitis: In acute tonsillitis, the symptoms last from anywhere between 3 days to 2 weeks. Symptoms of acute tonsillitis can either come on suddenly or gradually onset with a sore throat, usually accompanied by a fever.

2. Recurrent tonsillitis: Frequent or recurrent tonsillitis is defined as more than 7 episodes of tonsillitis in a year; or more than 5 episodes a year during a 2-year period; or more than 3 episodes a year during a 3-year period. 

3. Chronic tonsillitis: Chronic tonsillitis is a persistent or a continuous infection of the tonsils. If your symptoms stay for more than 2 weeks, it is called chronic tonsillitis.

In certain cases, your tonsil infections can spread to other tissues in your head and neck.

Diagnosis of Tonsillitis

Your ENT specialist will examine your throat and check for swelling, redness, or white spots on your tonsils. A throat culture might be taken by gently swabbing the back of your throat. The culture will be sent to a lab to identify if your tonsillitis is caused by a bacteria or virus. 

Depending on the cause of tonsillitis, your doctor will suggest treatment accordingly.

Treatment of Tonsillitis

A mild case of tonsillitis doesn’t necessarily require treatment. Recurrent tonsillitis or large-sized tonsils can lead to health risks and other complications. 

Pain medicines are prescribed to reduce the pain due to swelling or a sore throat. Other treatments involve:

  • Antibiotics. Antibiotics are medications to fight the bacterial infection. If the cause of your tonsillitis is a bacterial infection, your doctor might recommend antibiotics to reduce your symptoms. When it comes to antibiotics, it is necessary to complete your course of medicines. Even if your symptoms disappear entirely, the infection can get worse if you don’t take all of the medicine as prescribed.

  • Tonsillectomy. It is the surgical removal of tonsils, done under general anesthesia. Tonsillectomy is recommended when you have chronic or recurrent tonsillitis or when your symptoms don’t improve with medicines and home remedies. 

Home Remedies for Tonsillitis

  • Drink plenty of fluids to soothe a sore throat

  • Take lots of rest to reduce inflammation and swelling

  • Gargle with warm salt water to reduce any discomfort in your throat

  • Suck on throat lozenges 

  • Use a humidifier to moisten the air in your home

  • Avoid smoking

Tonsillitis is common and usually resolves with medications. Consult your ENT specialist if you have extreme pain in your throat with difficulty in swallowing and other symptoms that do not subside within 1-2 days.  

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.