Dr Paul Chatrath is a distinguished London ear, nose and throat surgeon, specialising in rhinology ...See more
What is tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis is a relatively common condition, particularly in children. It is an inflammation of the tonsils, and can be caused by either a viral infection or a bacterial one, although this is less common.
What are the tonsils?
The tonsils are located in the back of the throat – one on each side. If you open your mouth wide and look in the mirror, you can see them in the throat. They are part of the immune system and defend our bodies from infection. For example, having a sore throat is a sign that the tonsils are fighting off infection. The tonsils are especially important in young children, whose immune system is not as strong, as the tonsils isolate infection and prevent it from spreading to other areas of the body.
What causes tonsillitis?
The most common cause of tonsillitis is a form of virus, of which there are hundreds: adenoviruses, influenza viruses and human parainfluenza, the Epstein-Barr virus (infectious mononucleosis), or herpetic viruses, among others. Tonsillitis can also be caused by bacteria, although this is much less common. The most frequently occuring type of bacterial tonsillitis is called streptococcus pyogenes, but frequently with bacterial tonsillitis the illness is a combination of several.
What are the symptoms of tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis very often feels like a very bad cold or a bad bout of 'flu, but other symptoms may be present which you can watch for. You will likely notice that the tonsils are red and swollen, and you have a sore throat. Other symptoms to watch for are:
Nausea (feeling sick)
A hoarse throat, or the voice being affected
If these symptoms are not significantly reduced after 3-4 days, it is best to contact your GP.
Treatment for tonsillitis
Tonsillitis is most frequently left to run its course, but symptoms can be aided with home remedies, such as cooling drinks or ice lollies. Alternatively, warm drinks such as herbal tea may soothe the patient. In adults, there are types of gargle which may help to alleviate symptoms, such as a salt or diluted antiseptic gargles. Avoid giving children salt gargles.
If tonsillitis frequently occurs, an ENT specialist, after consultation, may seek to treat tonsillitis through removal of the tonsils. This type of surgery is called a tonsillectomy.