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What is tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is inflammation of your tonsils. Tonsils are the lumps of tissue on both sides of the back of your throat. Tonsils are part of your immune system. They help you fight infections. Recurrent tonsillitis is when you have tonsillitis many times in 1 year. Chronic tonsillitis is when you have a sore throat that lasts 3 months or longer.

What causes tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis may be caused by a bacterial or a viral infection. Group A streptococcus is the most common bacteria that causes tonsillitis. It also causes strep throat. Viruses that cause a cold or the flu may also cause tonsillitis. Tonsillitis can spread from an infected person to others through coughing, sneezing, or touching. It can also spread through kissing or sharing food and drinks.

What are the signs and symptoms of tonsillitis?

  • Severe sore throat

  • Red, swollen tonsils

  • Painful swallowing

  • Fever and chills

  • Bad breath

  • White spots on the tonsils

How is tonsillitis diagnosed?

Your doctor will examine your ears, nose, and throat. He will ask about your symptoms. You may have the following tests:

  • Throat culture: This is a test that may help caregivers learn which germ is causing your illness. A throat culture is done by rubbing a cotton swab against the back of your throat.

  • Blood tests: These may be done to see if you have an infection caused by bacteria or a virus.

How is tonsillitis treated?

Treatment may decrease your signs and symptoms. Treatment also may lower the number of times that you get tonsillitis in a year. Ask your caregiver about these and other treatments:

  • Antipyretics: This medicine is given to decrease a fever.

  • Pain medicine: You may be given a prescription medicine to decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take this medicine.

  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to fight an infection caused by bacteria. Take as directed.

  • Tonsillectomy: This is surgery to remove your tonsils. You may need surgery if you have chronic or recurrent tonsillitis. Surgery is also done if antibiotics are not getting rid of your tonsillitis.

What are the risks of tonsillitis?

Swelling in your throat may make it hard for you to breathe. This may cause you to have trouble sleeping. You may wake up trying to catch your breath. An abscess (pus pocket) may form around your tonsils. If you have a tonsillectomy, you may have increased bleeding after surgery. You also may have throat pain for 2 to 3 weeks. Even with treatment, your tonsillitis may return. Without treatment, your signs and symptoms may get worse.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Drink plenty of liquids: Drink plenty of water and other liquids. This can help keep you from getting dehydrated. Ask your caregiver how much you should drink.

  • Gargle with warm salt water: This may help to decrease throat pain. Mix 1 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of warm water. Ask how often you should do this.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your pain is not better after you take pain medicine.

  • Your sore throat is not better after you have finished antibiotic treatment.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have trouble breathing because your tonsils are swollen.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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