Many people at some point in their lives have suffered from tonsillitis. This very common throat infection usually affects children although adults can develop this infection.
Tonsillitis causes a sore throat but can also cause be accompanied by a head cold and high temperature.
The tonsils are two small clumps of lymphatic tissue which hang at the back of the throat. They form part of the body’s immune system and help to protect us against disease and infection.
However, they are prone to become infected which can occur at any time in your life.
Causes of tonsillitis
Tonsillitis is caused by a range of viruses or bacteria, for example the Epstein-Barr virus which is responsible for glandular fever.
This type of infection spreads easily between people, usually by contact, airborne droplets or kissing. A good example of this is a situation in which large numbers of young people are gathered together, e.g. sharing a house at university which enables this infection to spread.
Tonsillitis is an infection which causes the tonsils to become swollen and inflamed. But there is more than one type of tonsillitis.
Three types of tonsillitis
- Acute tonsillitis
- Sub-acute tonsillitis
- Chronic tonsillitis
Acute tonsillitis is defined as an infection which is caused by either a virus or bacterium and occurs as a single episode.
A sub-acute form of tonsillitis tends to lasts longer but the symptoms eventually clear up.
Chronic tonsillitis is much more serious and can last for several months. It is usually caused by a bacterium and starts with a sore throat which worsens over time. This causes severe pain when swallowing, a narrowing of the throat and a head cold. It also causes a high temperature, coughing and congestion.
If you develop chronic tonsillitis then you will notice that your voice deepens, often sounding rough or raspy which affects the quality of your speech.
It also results in the tell tale white patches of tissue on your tonsils.
Symptoms of tonsillitis
- Red, inflamed and sore tonsils
- Sore throat which can be severe
- White patches of tissue on the tonsils
- Swollen glands
- Hoarse or croaky voice
In some cases it may lead to a loss of the voice.
If tonsillitis is caused by a viral infection then symptoms will develop which are similar to a head cold. One exception to this is a particular viral infection called ‘Coxsackie infection’ which causes an eruption of small blisters on the tonsils and roof of the mouth.
These symptoms tend to be milder than those caused by a bacterial infection.
Tonsillitis which has been caused by a bacterial infection such as streptococcus A tends to cause severe symptoms which include bad breath, fever and feeling unwell.
Does tonsillitis require medical treatment?
If you have acute tonsillitis then this is likely to be a single flare up which usually disappears without medical intervention. Plus there are a few steps you can take to help it on its way such as drinking plenty of fluids, sucking throat sweets to ease your throat and getting lots of rest.
Foods which are easy to swallow and warm (not HOT) drinks are recommended. Paracetamol or ibuprofen can provide pain relief but ask your pharmacist if you are unsure about what to take.
If your tonsillitis has been caused by a viral infection then home based treatment will suffice. But if it is caused by a bacterial infection then antibiotics will help to fight off this infection.
Do you need to have your tonsils removed?
Surgery is an option in cases of repeated bouts of tonsillitis but this is much less commonly performed than in the past. At one time it was quite common to remove both the tonsils and adenoids but this is no longer the case.
Surgery is only considered if tonsillitis causes a problem with eating or drinking or breathing difficulties.
Complications of tonsillitis
Tonsillitis usually clears up by itself or responds well to treatment. But there are a few cases where complications may arise although these tend to be rare.
- A secondary infection, e.g. sinusitis
- Scarlet fever caused by strep throat
- Throat abscess
- Rheumatic fever – although this is extremely rare
In most cases tonsillitis is not a cause of concern and resolves itself without any problems.
Sore Throat Guide
- Sore Throat
- Throat anatomy
- Vocal cords
- How the throat works
- Causes of a sore throat
- Throat related problems
- Throat ulcers
- Globus pharyngeus
- Acid reflux
- Lumps in the throat
- Reinke’s oedema
- Enlarged adenoids
- Congenital throat problems
- Wegener’s granulomatosis
- Pharyngeal pouch
- Bad breath
- Throat infections
- Strep throat
- Bacterial throat infections
- Viral throat infections
- Glandular fever
- Throat polyps
- Throat cancers
- Cancer of the larynx
- Cancer of the oesophagus
- Cancer of the pharynx
- Cancer of the thyroid gland
- Cancer of the trachea
- Cancer of the mouth
- Treatment for sore throat
- Home based treatment
- Over the counter treatment
- Prescription medicine
- Throat surgery
- Recovery after tonsillectomy
- Looking after your throat
- Lifestyle factors
- Excess weight
- Voice misuse
- Professional speakers and singers
- Preventing a sore throat
- Sore throat in children
- Sore throat FAQs