Tonsillitis is the medical term for tonsil infection, a condition marked by inflammation and swelling, sore throat, and swallowing difficulty. It is typically caused by a viral or bacterial infection, and is most common in children.

What Causes Tonsillitis?

The job of the tonsils is to filter germs and bacteria from the airways, preventing infection. But they occasionally become overwhelmed by germs themselves, and become susceptible to their own infection. Tonsillitis is primarily a childhood disease, since the tonsils become much less important after puberty.

Tonsillitis occurs when germs, bacteria and other viruses infect the tonsils, groups of tissue located in the back of your throat. Other causes include allergies and upper respiratory disorders. The telltale sign of tonsillitis is red, swollen tonsils. Additional symptoms to look for include white or yellow patches on the tonsils, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, tender lymph nodes, fever, headache, stiff neck, and bad breath. Younger children may be extra fussy, drool a lot and refuse to eat.

Strep throat often accompanies tonsillitis because the streptococcus virus is a common cause of tonsillitis. Doctors will usually test for strep throat before beginning treatment.

Tonsillitis Treatment

vIn the past, tonsillitis was typically treated with surgery. Nowadays, doctors prefer a less invasive approach. If the cause is viral, the infection should run its course in 7-10 days. Symptoms can be treated with home remedies (rest, drink plenty of liquids, gargle with warm saltwater, suck on lozenges or eat cold treats like Popsicles). When a bacterial infection occurs, antibiotics are prescribed. Surgery to remove the tonsils (the procedure is known as a tonsillectomy) is still an option, but is usually reserved for recurring cases where medical treatment is ineffective.