Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
 

Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis

What is tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis refers to the inflammation of a tonsil--the large, fleshy, oval glands that lie in the lateral wall of the oral pharynx on either side of the throat. These glands contain cells that produce antibodies that are helpful in fighting infection.

What causes tonsillitis?

There are many possible, highly contagious bacterial and viral causes of tonsillitis. Causes of tonsillitis include the following:

What are the symptoms of tonsillitis?

The following are the most common symptoms for tonsillitis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

Additional symptoms may also occur if the patient develops a peritonsillar abscess:

The symptoms of tonsillitis may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

Can tonsillitis be prevented?

The following suggestions may help to inhibit the spread of the contagious illnesses that are generally responsible for the spread of tonsillitis:

It is also possible that someone (especially a child) is carrying the strep bacteria (a common cause of tonsillitis) without presenting any symptoms of the infection. This person acts as a "carrier" and can transmit the infection to another person.

Treatment for tonsillitis

Specific treatment for tonsillitis will be determined by your doctor based on:

Tonsillitis caused by a viral infection is treated differently than tonsillitis caused by a bacterial infection. Generally, tonsillitis caused by a bacterial strep infection can be successfully treated with an antibiotic medication. Viral tonsillitis is not treated with antibiotic medications because antibiotics are ineffective at defeating viral infections, but may be treated with other antiviral medications. With chronic and recurrent tonsillitis, a surgical procedure to remove the tonsils may be recommended. 

If a peritonsillar abscess has developed, urgent treatment to prevent airway obstruction may be required.  

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