Swollen Tonsils cause and treatment

Swollen Tonsils : Causes, Picture, Symptoms and Treatment

Swollen Tonsils: An Introduction

Tonsils are the lymph nodes found on either part of the throat’s back. It serves to protect the throat. This helps to protect the body from infection when the body is fending off diseases. When tonsils are swollen, the resulting medical problem is known as tonsillitis.

Accompanying this is a soreness of the throat and fever. Swollen tonsils are an infectious condition caused by bacteria and viruses. Most specifically, the streptococcal bacteria causes strep throat. Tonsillitis as a result of strep throat can result in difficulties and complications if it is not treated in time. Tonsillitis can be quickly diagnosed and the symptoms go away within seven to ten days.

Causes linked to Tonsillitis

Swollen tonsils are your initial line of protection against diseases. WBCs or leukocytes are produced to fend off infection and tonsils fight bacteria and viruses susceptible to infection from these.

Swollen tonsils can be caused by common cold virus or strep throat related infection. According to the AAFP, around 15-30 percent of swollen tonsils are due to bacteria, most often being strep bacteria. Another common cause of tonsilitis is virus. The Epstein-Barr virus can also cause tonsillitis leading to mononucleosis.

Tonsils can also become infected by herpes simplex virus, measles, peritonsillar abscess, common cold and strep throat. Rare and long lasting causes of tonsillitis include cancer and cryptic tonsils ( these are also tonsil stones). Swollen tonsils can be a stand-alone condition or it can accompany other conditions and result in symptoms too.

The most known types of virus that affect swollen tonsils include influenza, rhinovirus, adenovirus, coronavirus and respiratory virus. Viral tonsillitis can be caused by Cytomegalovirus and HSV. The most common bacterial infection to harm the tonsils is referred to as streptococcus pyogenes or group-A streptococcus. Other common bacteria include:

  • Staphylococcus aureaus
  • Chlamydia pneumoniea
  • Fusobacterium sp.
  • Bordetella pertussis
  • Nisseria honorrhoeae
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae

Diagnosis of Tonsillitus

For diagnosing this condition, doctors may perform a medical inspection and they will also look for a swollen tonsil area with some whitish spot like growths. Doctors may also check the throat’s exterior to check for signs of expanded lymph glands and an occasional rash. An infected area swab will be taken for more minute inspection by the lab to assess in case the cause is rooted in viral or bacteria. A complete count of blood cells may also be carried out. This involves using a bit of blood to investigate specific types of blood cells. This serves to complement the data taken from the swab.

Symptoms of Tonsillitis

It can be caused by a virus and/or bacterial infection. It can be over in a few days time. The most well-known symptoms of tonsillitis include a sore throat and difficulty/pain when you swallow. Red tonsils are filled with pus spots when swollen. High fever, painful ears and neck and trouble sleeping as well as coughing and chills and swollen lymph glands may result.

Slightly less prevalent symptoms include fatigue, stomach pain, and puking along with nausea, a fur- covered tongue, modifications in voice sound, bad breath and problems in opening the mouth. Tonsilloliths also known as tonsil stones or tonsillar calculi may also be present. This is a calcified material building up in the crevices of the tonsils. Generally, they are small but in few cases, these have also reached sizes of 30cm and above. Though tough to remove, they do not create much harm.

Photo By: Wikipedia/CC BY
Photo By: Wikipedia/CC BY

Along with a very sore throat, there is pain or difficulty in swallowing. From stiff neck to tonsils that have white or yellow spots due to swollen lymph nodes, and tenderness of jaw or neck, there are many symptoms. Recurrent tonsils and chronic tonsils have differing episodes that last in a year with the former occurring over a longer period than the latter. In some cases, tonsillitis can cause the throat to become so swollen that it can lead to difficulty in swallowing and may require an operation.

If you experience the following symptoms, tonsillitis may require prompt medical care:

  • Fever higher than 103 degree F/39.5 degree C
  • Neck stiffness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sore throat

When tonsillitis has been diagnosed, it is generally based on physical inspection of the throat. Treatment for advanced cases of swollen tonsils may also involve antibiotic medication. The swollen tonsils may also have to be operated on. Surgery to eliminate tonsils that are swollen is called tonsillectomy. This is also a procedure that is commonly carried out. This surgery is only suggested for those who have chronic or recurring tonsilitis. For tonsilitis that is not responsive to treatment or is associated with complications, surgery may be required.

If there is dehydration on account of tonsillitis, an intravenous fluid infusion may be required. Pain medication can relieve soreness of the throat, even while it is in the process of being healed. Easing a sore throat involves a lot of fluids and plenty of rest. Stay well hydrated and use warm water gargling to ease the throat. Another way to relieve the discomfort in the throat is to use lozenges. Change the quality of the air in your home using a humidifier. Choose to avoid smoking and drinking if you want to relieve the dry throat. OTC analgesic medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen are also recommended though these may be more suitable for adult patients. For children with swollen tonsils, you need to consult the doctor for intervention.

People who suffer from chronic tonsillitis will experience sleep apnea that is obstructive. When the airway becomes swollen and this comes in the way of sleeping well, it can cause the infection to become worse and breach the body’s defenses. This is called tonsillar cellulitis and can cause an aggregation of pus behind the tonsils. This is known as peritonsillar abscess and it requires surgery as well as draining.

If a full course of antibiotics is not taken or these medicines are not able to destroy bacteria, complications may result. This includes glomerulonephritis post infection and rheumatic fever.


Photo By: Wikipedia/ CC BY
Photo By: Wikipedia/ CC BY

Tonsillitis is extremely infectious and to decrease the chances of contracting the infection. Wash hands more often if you touch an infected person. Use every precaution to ensure that you do not transmit the infection to someone else, in case you are contagious. Swollen tonsillitis may also cause difficulty in respiration which can affect the quality of sleep negatively.

Once a person begins to take antibiotics, symptoms of swollen tonsils may begin to abate.

Here are some key points about tonsillitis. More detail and supporting information is in the main article. A massive percentage of tonsillitis cases resolve on their own. Tonsillitis is diagnosed with the throat and bacterial swab examination.

Home based remedies include rest, use of fluids to stay hydrated, a salt water gargle, medication or avoidance of irritants.


This is a not a common approach to staving off tonsillitis, and it is only resorted to if the tonsillitis is coming again and again or chronic in nature. Depending on the number of relapses, surgery may be needed. Tonsillectomy may also be used if the secondary issues such as sleep apnea are causing difficulties in a person’s capacity to breath or swallow.

In case a tonsil operation is considered important, there are many ways to accomplish this such as lasers, radio waves, electrocautery, colbation and ultrasonic energy.

If your immune system is compromised or the fever is not going, you may need to visit a doctor for treatment options.

Possible Complications

Other complications of swollen tonsils is the mono disease. Quinsy is also common. Non-infective swollen tonsils are also common. The message is to see the doctor if te condition worsens or the symptoms become more complicated. Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen may work. In many cases, tonsilitis may improve on its own. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, you need to decide if you need to take OTC or seek a doctor for treatment.

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