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Tonsillitis is a common infection of the tonsils, which are situated at the back of the throat. In the majority of cases, the condition tends to go away on its own after a few days and needs no medical intervention.

What is tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is usually experienced in children, but teenagers and adults can get it too.

If you have tonsillitis, the tonsils at the back of your throat will look sore, inflamed and red, and you might feel like you have a flu or bad cold.  You are also likely to feel run down and unwell.

What are the symptoms of tonsillitis?

Your symptoms might include:

  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Earache
  • Chills
  • Coughing

In some particularly bad cases, your neck glands might feel inflamed and painful, you might see white or yellow spots of pus on your tonsils and you may have bad breath.

What causes tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis tends to be caused by a common virus, often a cold, or a bacterial infection – usually strep throat. Risk factors for tonsillitis are:

  • Exposure to germs – this is what makes children so likely to get it, because germs spread easily at a school and tonsillitis is infectious
  • Your age – children aged between 5 and 15 are most likely to get it

How is tonsillitis diagnosed?

You may not need to go for diagnosis, as tonsillitis should go away on its own after a few days.

However, tonsillitis can be diagnosed by describing your symptoms to your GP. They will examine your throat and occasionally may take a throat swab. The swab will then be sent to a laboratory for testing.

You might also be given a blood test – a sample of your blood can help to show whether your infection is viral or bacterial.

How is tonsillitis treated?

As mentioned, you may not need to get your tonsillitis treated – in the majority of cases, your tonsillitis will clear up on its own.

You may be given some pain relief medications to help your sore throat and if you feel dehydrated from tonsillitis, you might need intravenous fluids to help you recover.

If you have a particularly serious case of tonsillitis, you might be offered some antibiotics (unless you have viral tonsillitis, in which case antibiotics aren’t effective). In most cases oral antibiotics are sufficient.  Should your tonsillitis be severe, such that you are not able to drink water, you or your child may be admitted into hospital for rehydration and intravenous antibiotics.

Tonsillectomy is not performed at the time of your tonsillitis infection but if you get recurrent infections, you may need your tonsils out. You can ask your ENT surgeon for guidance on this.

If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert specialists are here to help.

This content has been checked and approved by

Miss Nara Orban  ›

Nara Orban is an ENT surgeon at King Edward VII’s Hospital.

Find your specialist in tonsillitis at King Edward VII's Hospital

Miss Nara Orban  ›
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