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Tonsillitis - Diagnosing tonsillitis

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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See your GP if you think that you or your child has tonsillitis.

Your GP will examine your throat and ask some questions about your symptoms.

There are four main signs that determine whether tonsillitis is due to a bacterial infection rather than a viral infection. 

These are:

  • a high temperature
  • white pus-filled spots on the tonsils
  • no cough
  • swollen and tender lymph nodes (glands)

If you have two of the above, your GP may recommend further testing. If you have three or more of the above then it is highly likely that you have bacterial tonsillitis and antibiotics may sometimes be prescribed.

Laboratory testing

If a more detailed diagnosis is required, a swab sample can be sent to a laboratory for analysis. The results can take a few days to return.

Laboratory tests are mainly used for patients in high-risk groups (such as those with weakened immune systems) or if previous treatment has failed.

Blood test

If you develop tonsillitis as an adult and you also have additional symptoms such as swollen nodes and a very painful throat your GP may recommend you have a blood test to see whether you have glandular fever. Read more about the diagnosis of glandular fever.

Medical Review: February 02, 2012
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