Date: April 17, 2014 Richard Jones


A pain in the throat area can range from being a minor discomfort, to being so severe that even the slightest throat movement can cause extreme pain. Tonsillitis is one of the major causes of pain in the throat area; this throat pain can even spread to surrounding body parts such as the ears, the eyes, and the whole head, and can leave a person feeling very sick and unable to do normal daily activities. There are cases when tonsillitis can heal by itself within a few days without the need for antibiotic treatment; however, it is still important to learn more about tonsillitis so that you will know how to deal with this illness if or when the infection sets in.

What is Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is the inflammation of the glands of the throat (the tonsils), and is most commonly caused by either a viral or a bacterial infection. The tonsils, which are located at the back of the mouth and the top of the throat, have the task of filtering out germs and bacteria to prevent infection in the body. Tonsillitis is quite common in children; however, adults can also be susceptible to this dental and medical problem. Knowing more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment for tonsillitis will give you a better understanding of how you can avoid having this uncomfortable concern – and how you can make the road to a recovery a shorter one when you already have tonsillitis.

Symptoms of Tonsillitis – by NHS Choices

Recognising and treating tonsilitis

Symptoms of Tonsillitis

  • Sore throat
  • Swollen or red tonsils
  • White patches on the tonsils
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Difficulties in feeding (in babies)
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Tenderness in the throat and jaw area
  • Pain in the ears
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Runny nose

What Causes Tonsillitis?

Bacterial or viral infections can cause tonsillitis, and the most common viruses associated to tonsillitis are the influenza, rhinovirus, adenovirus, coronavirus, and respiratory syncytial virus. Tonsillitis can also be caused by the herpes simplex virus,cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, or HIV. The most common bacterial cause of tonsillitis, on the other hand, is the Group A B-hemolytic streptococcus (GABHS), which is the cause of strep throat.

Tonsillitis is contagious, with the virus or bacteria spread by airborne droplets through coughing, or direct contact (through kissing). Tonsillitis that is caused by a viral infection is usually contagious for around seven to 10 days, while tonsillitis caused by bacteria can be contagious for a period spanning around two weeks. Tonsillitis which is caused by bacterial infections is not contagious within 24-48 hours after starting with antibiotic treatment.

How is Tonsillitis Diagnosed?

The doctor or dentist will need to perform a physical examination to properly diagnose tonsillitis. The presence of swelling, redness, and white spots on the tonsils usually signifies tonsillitis. An abscess on the tonsils can also indicate tonsillitis. Other diagnostic tests such as a rapid diagnostic exam with a swab specimen taken from the back of the throat will confirm the presence of strep throat, or a bacterial infection. The lymph nodes on the neck and jaw area are also usually swollen and tender to the touch in tonsillitis cases.

Treatment for Tonsillitis

  • Throat pain can be managed with over the counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, or Ibuprofen. This can be given or suggested by the doctor to help deal with the discomfort brought about by the tonsillitis symptoms. Do not give a child with tonsillitis over the counter pain relievers without consulting with a doctor first, to ensure the child’s safety.
  • Antibiotics will not be given by the doctor if they are not absolutely necessary – in cases when pain management or home care will be enough to alleviate the symptoms of tonsillitis. However, in cases when the strep throat or other infection needs to be treated using antibiotics, it is very important to remember that the full dosage should be completed. Even after the symptoms of tonsillitis have gone, it is necessary to finish the antibiotics complete dosage to ensure that the infection will not return. Penicillin is the most common class of antibiotics prescribed for the treatment of tonsillitis; for those who are allergic to penicillin, erythromycin is prescribed instead.
  • Drinking cold beverages, or even sucking on popsicles, can help alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms of tonsillitis.
  • Drinking warm liquids, such as clear and bland-tasting soups, can help with the management of throat pain.
  • Make sure that you are well-hydrated at all times by drinking warm or cold beverages that are bland tasting. This helps in keeping the infection in check, preventing dehydration, and in easing the pain in the throat/tonsils area.
  • Gargling with warm water mixed with salt can help with the tonsillitis and the dental infection, and can also relieve some of the discomfort in the throat area.
  • Sucking on lozenges with benzocaine or similar ingredients can help ease the pain; however, this is not advised for young children as the lozenges may be choking hazards.

Surgical Treatment for Tonsillitis

Surgical treatment may be done in cases when an abscess has formed on the tonsils, and will need to be drained through an incision or needle aspiration; in this case, the incision or needle aspiration is necessary to treat the infection, as well as to remove the obstruction in the tonsils.

Removal of the tonsils (called a tonsillectomy) may be needed for patients who frequently have tonsillitis symptoms (around six times in a single year). The surgical removal of the tonsils will be done by an ENT specialist or surgeon to permanently treat tonsillitis problems.


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