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Tonsillitis

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Updated September 03, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The Basics:

Tonsillitis is a swelling and infection that occurs in the tonsils, which are located in the back of the throat.

Symptoms:

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.

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.

Causes:

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.

Treatments:

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.

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.

Sources:

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

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