Tonsils are small glands that lie on either side of the back of the throat. They are essentially glands that help maintain immunity and protect the oral inlet from invading pathogens. Tonsillitis describes a condition where these tonsils have become infected and/or inflamed.
This most commonly occurs as a result of viral infection and, more rarely, arises due to bacterial infection. Tonsillitis is one of the most common childhood conditions in the world. It may also affect adults, especially those with a lowered immunity.
The symptoms of tonsillitis include:
- Painful and sore throat
- Dysphagia or pain and discomfort while swallowing
- Fever over 38°C (100.4°F)
- Headache and jaw pain
In most cases, tonsillitis resolves within three to four days. If a child suffers from symptoms or a high fever for more than four days without improving, it is important to consult a physician. Complications include high fever, convulsions due to fever, inability to eat or drink and shortness of breath.
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosis is commonly made on the basis of clinical symptoms and examination of the back of the throat which may reveal swollen and inflamed tonsils. Since most of the cases are due to viral infection, microbial culture of swabs taken from the surface of the tonsils may not yield any useful results.
However, in some cases, bacterial infection is the underlying cause and swab analysis can reveal the type and strain of bacteria and therefore the most appropriate antibiotic.
Treatment usually involves alleviating symptoms such as pain, fever and difficulty in swallowing. Paracetamol or ibuprofen can reduce pain and fever. Adequate hydration with drinking fluids and bed rest are also important for recovery.
People with recurrent tonsillitis or chronic tonsillitis, may require surgery to remove the tonsils (tonsillectomy).
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc