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Tonsillitis: Types, Causes, Risks, and Treatment

Medically reviewed by Diana Rose G. Tolentino, MD, MBA · Ear Nose and Throat · HMICare Clinic & Diagnostic Center

Written by Kip Soliva · Updated Sep 28, 2021

Tonsillitis: Types, Causes, Risks, and Treatment

Know the Basics

Tonsillitis is no rare occurrence. In this article, we delve into what it really is, its different types, causes, symptoms, risk factors, prevention tips, and tonsillitis treatment methods.

What Is Tonsillitis?

Tonsils are pads at the back of the throat that appear oval-shaped. There is one on each side, and they are generally clear pads in the same color as the rest of your throat. Tonsillitis is the inflammation of these tonsils that bring many possible complications.

These complications include having difficulty when swallowing or breathing, especially during sleep, a cause of obstructive sleep apnea. Infections, like tonsillar cellulitis that goes deep into the surrounding tissue, or peritonsillar abscess that would cause pus to gather behind the tonsil, are both likely complications of tonsillitis.

What Are the Types of Tonsillitis?

There are three types of tonsillitis and two of these are classified by brevity and the last is classified by occurrence. Remember: knowing about the types significantly helps in tonsillitis treatment.

Acute tonsillitis lasts around 10 days or less. This is common, and most kids will get tonsillitis at least once in their childhood.

Chronic tonsillitis will last much longer than acute tonsillitis. This may come with a chronic sore throat, bad breath or halitosis, and tonsil stones.

Recurrent tonsillitis is when someone has chronic tonsillitis as often as five times in a year. This happens because of biofilms in the folds of their tonsils. In certain cases, genetics gives them poor immunity against streptococcus.

What Are the Causes of Tonsillitis?

Most causes of tonsillitis are contagious since tonsillitis could be caused by common viruses or bacterial infections. Streptococcus pyogenes, or Group A streptococcus is a bacteria that causes strep throat along with other possible strains that would cause tonsillitis.


What Are the Symptoms of Tonsillitis?

The symptoms of tonsillitis are straightforward: The tonsils noticeably swell and get inflamed and irritated or turn a darker shade of red when suffering tonsillitis. There could be a visible coating or patches on the tonsils that appear to be white or yellow. And, as mentioned above, swallowing will be difficult or painful. As a result, drooling may occur.

What You Need to Know About Swallowing Disorders

It’s also common for someone with tonsillitis to have halitosis, or bad breath, and an unusually scratchy voice.

For babies, unusual fussiness and a refusal to eat could be manifestations of the discomfort brought about by inflamed tonsils. 

Due to tonsillitis, it’s possible for someone to receive treatment for a fever or a headache. This infection would also cause the lymph nodes on either side of the neck to enlarge. Tonsillitis may also cause other symptoms like a stiff neck or even a stomachache.

Risk Factors

Who Is at Risk?

Although tonsillitis is not that serious of a condition, risk factors could still play a role in contracting tonsillitis.

As mentioned above, young age is a risk factor. Kids aged five to 15 years old are likely to have tonsillitis caused by bacteria, while viral causes would affect younger children. However, it’s very rare that kids younger than two years old get tonsillitis.

Frequent exposure to germs is also a risk factor especially because the viruses and bacteria that cause tonsillitis are contagious. This is another reason why age is a risk factor. School-age children are more exposed to their peers and the outside world in general. And this gives plenty of opportunities for them to come in contact with viruses or bacteria.


How to Prevent Tonsillitis

To prevent tonsillitis, good hygiene is needed. Teaching kids to wash their hands properly and regularly, avoiding sharing food utensils, and keeping them home when they are sick help to prevent tonsillitis.

Coughing and sneezing into a tissue or into your elbow followed by thorough handwashing also go a long way in preventing tonsillitis.


Tonsillitis Treatment

Tonsillitis treatment plans vary depending on how the diagnosis goes. During the diagnosis, there will be a physical exam and tests. These include a throat swab and, on rare occasions, a complete blood count (CBC).

In the physical exam, the doctor will observe the throat using a lighted instrument. The doctor may also observe the ears and nose since these are possible sites of infection as well. After this, doctors may check for a rash associated with strep throat called scarlatina. Checking for swollen lymph nodes and spleen enlargement is also done since these could be indicative of an infection.

tonsillitis treatment

A throat swab is performed and sent to the laboratory to check for the presence of Streptococcus using a culture test. If deemed necessary, a CBC is conducted to have a better understanding of how the body is coping with a possible infection.

In severe cases or cases wherein someone has recurring tonsillitis of more than four to five episodes a year or unresponsiveness to antibiotic treatment, surgery might be an option. Tonsillectomy can address complications that come with recurring tonsillitis like difficulty breathing or swallowing, abscess, and even obstructive sleep apnea.

Tonsillitis Treatment at Home

At home, tonsillitis treatment focuses on soothing the throat. This means drinking enough water, getting enough rest, and making sure the air is humidified enough. Comforting food, drinks, and snacks like warm liquids, cold desserts, and lozenges also help. A saltwater gargle can also help to soothe sore throats. Avoiding possible irritants and using over the counter medicine to treat the fever and pain would also be helpful as long as it’s cleared by your doctor.

If a sore throat is the cause of the bacterial infection, your doctor will recommend a course of antibiotics to be taken under the supervision of a medical professional. It’s important to finish the full course regardless of at what point the symptoms have stopped manifesting.

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Tonsillitis is a common condition, but it’s also better to err on the side of caution. Knowing tonsillitis treatment options and methods of prevention for this condition can go a long way in maintaining your health.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Diana Rose G. Tolentino, MD, MBA

Ear Nose and Throat · HMICare Clinic & Diagnostic Center

Written by Kip Soliva · Updated Sep 28, 2021

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