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What is tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis refers to the inflammation of a tonsil - the large, fleshy, oval masses of tissue that lie in the lateral wall of the oral pharynx on either side of the throat. These clusters of tissue 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:

  • Streptococcus (commonly referred to as "strep") bacteria (the most common cause of tonsillitis)
  • adenoviruses
  • the influenza virus
  • the Epstein-Barr virus
  • parainfluenza viruses
  • enteroviruses
  • the herpes simplex virus

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:

  • swollen, red tonsils (often coated with a yellow, gray, or white membrane)
  • blisters or painful ulcerated areas on the throat
  • sudden onset sore throat
  • pain with swallowing
  • headache
  • loss of appetite
  • malaise
  • chills
  • fever
  • swollen and tender lymph nodes in the neck or jaw area

Additional symptoms of tonsillitis in children include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain

The symptoms of tonsillitis may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your physician 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:

  • Keep your (and your child's) distance from anyone with tonsillitis or a sore throat.
  • Do not share utensils, drinking glasses, toothbrushes, etc., with anyone who has tonsillitis or a sore throat.
  • Wash your (and your child's) hands frequently.
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and teach your children to do the same.

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 physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • cause of the infection
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

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, as antibiotics are ineffective at defeating viral infections, but may be treated with other antiviral medications.

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Online Resources of Otolaryngology

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