The tonsils are two masses of lymphoid tissue on either side of the throat. They are responsible for filtering germs and bacteria, to prevent infection. As the body’s first line of defense, the tonsils themselves are susceptible to infection. Tonsillitis is an inflammation of the tonsils caused by infection.

Tonsillitis is far more common in children; after the onset of puberty, the tonsils play a less important part in defending the immune system.

How Do I Know if I Have Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis occurs when the tonsils become enlarged and swollen. They often take on a reddish appearance, and may be covered in white or yellow spots. Other symptoms include sore throat, tenderness, hoarseness, headache, ear pain, difficulty swallowing, fever, chills, bad breath, swollen neck and jaw glands, and blisters on the throat. Young children may display increased irritability, drool excessively, and lack an appetite.

Viral and bacterial infections usually cause tonsillitis. One of the most common causes is the Streptococcus bacterium, which is also responsible for strep throat. Tonsillitis usually resolves with antibiotic therapy. However, recurrent and frequent tonsil infections may require removal of the tonsils.

What Are My Treatment Options?

Viral infections do not require medical treatment. Home remedies for symptom relief include bed rest, drinking plenty of fluids (warm liquids such as tea or broth are particularly helpful), gargling with warm salt water, sucking on lozenges or cough drops, and eating Popsicles or other cold treats. Bacterial infections require antibiotics.

Tonsillitis may recur frequently. In these cases, a tonsillectomy (surgical removal of the tonsils) may be recommended.