The tonsils are two soft lumps of lymphatic tissue which hang either side at the rear of the throat. They look similar in appearance to the adenoids but are found at the back of the throat rather than the nasal passages.

They are also part of the immune system and help to protect the body against illness or infection, caused by the breathing in of germs or bacteria. These bacteria and germs can cause throat infections or other similar conditions but are prevented from doing so by cells and antibodies present in the tonsils.

So, the tonsils are the first line of defence against disease or infection. The tonsils vary in size from one person to another.

What problems occur with the tonsils?

Tonsillitis is the most common infection of the tonsils but there are less well known conditions such as glandular fever and quinsy which all affect the throat.

Tonsillitis is discussed separately, and in greater detail in our throat infections section.

Another condition is cancer of the tonsil although this tends to be very rare.

If you experience repeated infections of your tonsils and/or adenoids then your GP may recommend surgery. However, surgery is less commonly performed than previously and is only undertaken if quality of life is severely affected.

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