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Tonsillitis

Condition Basics

What is tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is an infection or inflammation of the tonsils. The tonsils are areas of lymph tissue on both sides of the throat, above and behind the tongue. They are part of the immune system, which helps the body fight infection. Tonsillitis often goes away on its own after 4 to 10 days.

What causes it?

Tonsillitis is usually caused by a virus. It can also be caused by the same bacteria that cause strep throat. In rare cases, a fungus or a parasite can cause tonsillitis.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptoms of tonsillitis are a sore throat and swollen tonsils. Symptoms may also include a fever, a congested or runny nose, swollen lymph nodes, a headache, and trouble swallowing.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will look at your throat to see if you have red and swollen tonsils with spots or sores. These signs can mean that you have tonsillitis. Your doctor may do a rapid strep test along with a throat culture. These will show if the tonsillitis is caused by streptococcus bacteria.

How is tonsillitis treated?

If your tonsillitis is caused by strep bacteria, you may need treatment with antibiotics. Tonsillitis caused by a virus usually goes away on its own. Treatment includes self-care at home, such as over-the-counter pain medicine. Surgery to remove the tonsils is only used when there are serious problems with the tonsils.

Does your child need a tonsillectomy?

Tonsillectomy is surgery to remove the tonsils. It's generally used for children who have serious complications. Or it may be done when there are repeated infections that don't respond to other treatment, especially when they interfere with daily life. But it should only be done after you and your doctor carefully think about your child's medical history and overall health.

Tonsillectomy for strep throat may be done when tonsillitis keeps coming back and isn't helped by antibiotics. Or it may be done if an infection threatens the child's well-being.

Credits

Current as of: December 2, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Charles M. Myer III MD - Otolaryngology

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