What You Need to Know About Tonsillitis

sore throat
Could your sore throat be tonsillitis?. Fuse/Getty Images

The Basics:

Tonsillitis occurs when there is swelling and infection in the tonsils. Your tonsils are located in the back on your throat. They serve as a defense mechanism - helping your body fight infections. Sometimes germs attack the tonsils themselves and you get tonsillitis. It can be caused by bacteria or viruses. 


Symptoms of tonsillitis can include:

  • Red, swollen throat
  • Pain in the throat
  • Fever
  • White patches in the back of the throat
  • Headache
  • Difficulty or pain when swallowing

What You Can Do:

Tonsillitis may go away on its own if it is caused by a virus. You can take anti-inflammatory medications, such as Advil or Motrin, or gargle with warm salt water to relieve the pain. Drinking cold liquids, eating foods like Jello, popsicles or soup may help as well. 

If your symptoms last more than 48 hours or they continue to get worse, you should seek medical attention.

If you have difficulty breathing or cannot eat or swallow, you should seek medical attention immediately.


Tonsillitis can be caused by a virus or bacteria. The tonsils filter secretions that enter your body and can become overwhelmed with bacteria or viruses. This is when they become infected and cause problems. Your doctor can determine whether your tonsillitis is bacterial or viral and how to treat it.

Strep throat is actually a common bacterial cause of tonsillitis. If your health care provider thinks you have strep throat, she may perform a rapid strep test or a throat culture. Depending on the results of these tests, you may or not not be treated with antibiotics. It's important not to push for antibiotics if they aren't really necessary.

Taking antibiotics when you have a viral illness leads to antibiotic resistance


If your tonsillitis is viral, you can take medication to relieve the symptoms, but only time will make the virus go away.

If your tonsillitis is bacterial, your doctor may treat you with antibiotics. Typically, strep throat is treated with amoxicillin

When to Consider a Tonsillectomy:

If you have recurring tonsillitis, your doctor may decide it would be beneficial to have your tonsils removed. This requires a visit to a doctor known as an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat). The ENT will determine if you are a candidate for a tonsillectomy and will perform the surgery.

Tonsillectomies are usually performed in children, but can be performed on adults as well. Both are outpatient procedures (not requiring a hospital stay), but recovery is typically much easier for children.


Tonsillitis. PubMed Health. 07 Nov 11. US National Library of Medicine. 25 June 12.

"Tonsillitis". KidsHealth May 13. The Nemours Foundation. 29 Oct 15. 

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