Tonsillitis: Diagnosis, Signs and symptoms And Treatment

MNT Knowledge Center

Tonsillitis affects millions of individuals each year. Although uncomfortable and unpleasant, tonsillitis is rarely a major health concern.

The next article looks into its causes, diagnosis and signs and symptoms. Treatment, whether both at home and with a healthcare professional, may also be covered.

More information concerning the role from the tonsils inside a healthy person is also incorporated.

  1. What is tonsillitis?
  2. Symptoms of tonsillitis
  3. What are the tonsils?
  4. Causes of tonsillitis
  5. Diagnosis of tonsillitis
  6. Treatment of tonsillitis

Fast facts on tonsillitis

Here are some key points about tonsillitis. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

  • Tonsillitis can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection.
  • The vast majority of tonsillitis cases will clear of their own accord within 10 days.
  • Strep throat is a type of tonsillitis caused by group A streptococcus bacteria.
  • Surgery is a last resort in the treatment of tonsillitis.
  • Tonsillitis can be diagnosed by examination of the throat and a bacterial swab.
  • There is a multitude of infectious agents that can cause the illness.
  • Tonsils are the body’s first line of defense against external pathogens.
  • Sometimes tonsilloliths are left in a patient’s throat after the infection has cleared.

What is tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is definitely an infection from the tonsils – two pads of tissue at the rear of the throat. The problem is usually viral, but can often be microbial.

When the infection is as simple as a bacteria of the group A streptococcus, it’s known to as strep throat.1

Most people, whether given medication or otherwise, will be fully cured in the infection within a few days.

In roughly 40% of people, the signs and symptoms will resolve within three days, as well as for 85%, they’re going to have retrieved within 7 days.

Symptoms of tonsillitis

[Tonsil diagram]
Tonsillitis can be caused by either a viral or bacterial infection, and typically resolves within a couple of days.

The most common symptoms of tonsillitis include the following:

  • Sore throat and pain when swallowing
  • Red and swollen tonsils with pus-filled spots
  • High temperature
  • Headache
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain in the ears and/or neck
  • Tiredness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Coughing
  • Chills
  • Swollen lymph glands.

Less common symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Stomachache and vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Furry tongue
  • Changes in the sound of the voice
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Difficulty opening the mouth.

In around 10% of people, tonsilloliths – also referred to as tonsil gemstones or tonsillar calculi – might be present. A tonsillolith is really a calcified build-from material within the crevices from the tonsils.

Tonsilloliths are mainly calcium-based but might also contain phosphorus, magnesium, ammonia and carbonate. They can be small, however in rare cases tonsilloliths have been discovered reaching dimensions of 30 centimeters3 and above.2

They could be a nuisance and often hard to remove, but they’re not generally dangerous. Tonsilloliths may cause halitosis, however.

What are the tonsils?

Tonsils are collections of lymphoid tissue (area of the defense mechanisms) situated at the rear of the throat.

There are actually four teams of tonsils within the human mind, but, usually when they’re known to merely as “the tonsils,” it’s the palatine tonsils which are being talked about.

The palatine tonsils would be the only tonsils which are visible under normal conditions.

Tonsils are in their biggest size at about the time of adolescence and in the future they gradually atrophy (breakdown).

The tonsils are the body’s first line of defense against inhaled pathogens. Specialized M cells on their surface capture antigens from pathogens and alert B cells and T cells to mount an immune defense.

Tonsils also produce T cells, a type of white blood cell that plays a vital role in the immune response. T cells were, until recently, only thought to be produced in the thymus gland (hence the “T” in “T cell”).3

On the next page, we look at causes and diagnosis of tonsillitis and the available treatment options for the condition.


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Causes of tonsillitis

[Tonsil photograph]
The tonsils are the first line of defense of the human immune system.

Since the tonsils are the initial type of defense against virus attack in the outdoors world, they’re weaker to invasion.

Tonsillitis, whether viral or microbial, could be contagious and spread for every person.

When the condition is because another illness, for example sinus problems or hay fever, chances are to not be infectious.

Tonsillitis is most generally the result of a viral infection. The most typical kinds of virus to contaminate the tonsils would be the following:

  • Adenovirus: cause of the common cold among other illnesses
  • Rhinovirus: the most common infectious viral agent in humans
  • Influenza: often referred to as the flu
  • Coronavirus: there are six known strains, one of which causes SARS
  • Respiratory syncytial virus: generally causes respiratory tract infections.

Less common viral tonsillitis can be caused by:

  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Herpes simplex virus
  • Cytomegalovirus.

The most common type of bacteria to infect the tonsils is Streptococcus pyogenes (group A streptococcus). But, less often, it can also be caused by the following:

  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Chlamydia pneumoniae
  • Bordetella pertussis
  • Fusobacterium sp.
  • Corynebacterium diphtheriae
  • Treponema pallidum
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

Diagnosis of tonsillitis

Detecting tonsillitis with a physician will begin having a general inspection. They’ll be searching for that telltale indications of a inflamed tonsil region, frequently with white-colored spots.

Doctors might also inspect the outside of the throat for indications of enlarged lymph glands along with a scarlatina rash that typically presents.

A swab from the infected area is going to be taken for closer inspection with a laboratory, to find out if the causal representative is viral or microbial.

Doctors might also do a complete bloodstream cell count. This test involves going for a small quantity of bloodstream to research amounts of certain kinds of bloodstream cell. An entire bloodstream cell count might help find out the cause when the initial laboratory answers are not yet proven.4

Treatment of tonsillitis

[Tonsil illustration]
Surgery for tonsillitis is now only used as a last resort. Nowadays, there are multiple ways in which tonsils can be removed.

The first line of tonsillitis care can be conducted at home, and if the infection is viral rather than bacterial, antibiotics will not be prescribed.

Basic treatments

These are the simplest tactics to reduce suffering at home:

  • Rest: the more sleep, the better – during sleep the immune system is thought to be more active5
  • Fluids: fluids prevent the throat from drying out and becoming more uncomfortable, warm liquids (preferably caffeine-free) can also soothe
  • Saltwater: a saltwater gargle might help with discomfort
  • Humidify: air humidifiers or sitting in a steamy bathroom can negate the irritation of dry air
  • Avoid irritants: no smoking, avoid smoky locations
  • Medication: pain and fever can be treated with ibuprofen or acetaminophen.


If microbial infection is responsible for the tonsillitis, antibiotics are frequently recommended. Penicillin is most generally used.

The entire span of antibiotics should be taken, whether signs and symptoms diminish or otherwise. Failure to do this might permit the infection to spread and can cause rheumatic fever or kidney inflammation within the lengthy term.


Surgery was once a comparatively common method of coping with tonsillitis. Nowadays, tonsillectomies aren’t used unless of course the tonsillitis is chronic and recurring.

For example, seven occurrences inside a single year, or three each year for several years consecutively would warrant the glory of surgery.

Even though the tonsils are more and more less active following adolescence, they’re still regarded as an energetic organ and for that reason not removed unless of course entirely necessary.

However, a tonsillectomy may be known as upon when the tonsils are causing secondary issues for example anti snoring, difficulty in breathing or swallowing, or perhaps an abscess that’s hard to treat.

If a tonsillectomy is deemed necessary, there are a variety of methods that can be applied other than a scalpel. Lasers, radio waves, ultrasonic energy, coblation (cold temperatures) or electrocautery (a needle heated by electricity) have all been successfully used to remove the tonsils.6

More and more, surgery is just about the last the avenue for call. The negative implications of surgery are thought to over-shadow the positives connected with removing the tonsils.7

Generally, although distressing and uncomfortable at that time, tonsillitis will pass, for most patients, with no serious lengthy-term implications.