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Tonsillitis - What is tonsillitis?

BMJ Group Medical Reference


Tonsillitis can make you very ill and keep you in bed for a few days with a high temperature and a severe sore throat. It will get better, but if you or your child gets repeated bouts of tonsillitis, an operation to take out the tonsils may be needed.

We've brought together the best research about tonsillitis and weighed up the evidence about how to treat it. You can use our information to talk to your doctor and decide which treatments are best for you.

Tonsillitis is an infection in your tonsils. Your tonsils are two small, almond-shaped mounds that sit on either side of the back of your throat. If they get infected with a virus or bacteria, it can make you ill. You might need to take a few days off school or work.

tonsils_default.gifYour tonsils are part of your body's immune system. Your immune system fights infections and helps you stay healthy. Your tonsils help protect the rest of your body from bacteria and viruses that get into your mouth. But sometimes, viruses or bacteria attack the tonsils themselves. This can make them swollen and inflamed. This is when you get the painful symptoms of tonsillitis.

You may also get the infection in other parts of your throat.

Lots of different bacteria and viruses can cause tonsillitis. You can pick them up easily from other people who are ill. For example, you might breathe in droplets in the air that contain viruses or bacteria.

The bacteria that most commonly cause tonsillitis are called Streptococcus.[1] These bacteria can also cause a sore throat without affecting your tonsils. You might hear a sore throat or tonsillitis called strep throat.

You won't be able to tell what's caused your tonsillitis. The symptoms are the same whether it's caused by bacteria or a virus.[2]

If you have one attack of tonsillitis, doctors call it acute tonsillitis. But if you get tonsillitis a lot, your doctor may say you have recurrent tonsillitis. This is a severe form of tonsillitis. It usually means you have five or more episodes a year and your symptoms are bad enough to stop you doing your normal activities.[2]

Tonsillitis affects children more often than adults.[3] Girls may get recurrent tonsillitis more than boys.[4]



Bacteria are tiny organisms. There are lots of different types. Some are harmful and can cause disease. But some bacteria live in your body without causing any harm.

immune system

Your immune system is made up of the parts of your body that fight infection. When bacteria or viruses get into your body, it's your immune system that kills them. Antibodies and white blood cells are part of your immune system. They travel in your blood and attack bacteria, viruses and other things that could damage your body.


Inflammation is when your skin or some other part of your body becomes red, swollen, hot, and sore. Inflammation happens because your body is trying to protect you from germs, from something that's in your body and could harm you (like a splinter) or from things that cause allergies (these things are called allergens). Inflammation is one of the ways in which your body heals an infection or an injury.


Viruses are microbes (tiny organisms) that need the cells of humans or other animals to exist. They use the machinery of cells to reproduce. Then they spread to other cells in the body.

For more terms related to Tonsillitis


For references related to Tonsillitis click here.
Last Updated: June 21, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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