Unfortunately, tonsillitis is a common and potentially painful condition. It can occur in any age but is most commonly a childhood infection, with preschool age through to mid-teens being the most commonly diagnosed.

What is tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is a general term applied to the inflammation of the tonsils, which are two small pads of lymphatic tissue at the back of each side of the throat. The tonsils are part of the immune system, they make antibodies and white blood cells to attack germs inside your mouth.

Cause of tonsillitis

Tonsillitis can be caused by a virus or bacteria, with approximately 15% – 30% of cases tonsillitis being caused by bacteria, usually streptococcus bacterium. It’s easily spread by close contact with an infected person through contact with the skin, mouth, nose, eyes or other mucous membranes. Infection often occurs via droplets in the air from coughs, sneezes or an infected persons breath.

Symptoms of tonsillitis

Symptoms of tonsillitis typically appear within 2 to 5 days of exposure and include a sore throat and difficulty to eat, drink and swallow. Other symptoms may include:

  • Red, swollen or irritated tonsils
  • Yellow or white coating on the tonsils
  • Swollen glands (in the neck)
  • Bad breath
  • Fever or high temperature
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Rash
  • Husky or scratchy voice
  • Earaches

Tonsillitis can also lead to a number of complications, including:

  • Chronic tonsillitis, where the infection does not clear up.
  • Secondary infections which spread to the nose, sinuses or ears.
  • Otitis Media (in children) causing inflammation and infection of the middle ear.
  • Quinsy, an infection spreads to the tissue around the nostrils and an abscess in the throat may form.

Treating Tonsillitis

Treatment of tonsillitis depends on what is causing the infection, bacterial tonsillitis may require antibiotics. To help relieve the pain and discomfort of tonsillitis, try the following:

  • Paracetamol to help alleviate pain and fever.
  • Keep hydrated and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Eat cool food and drinks such as ice-cream and smoothies to make swallowing easier.
  • Get plenty of rest.

Recurrent tonsillitis

Your doctor may suggest performing a tonsillectomy to remove your tonsils if tonsillitis becomes a frequent occurrence, is severe, or causes complications. Reasons for this operation include:

  • Recurrent bouts of tonsillitis with pain, discomfort and high temperatures.
  • Chronic tonsillitis not helped by antibiotics.
  • Tonsillitis accompanied by frequent ear infections.
  • Breathing difficulties due to enlarged tonsils.
  • Abscesses (quinsy) forming in the throat.