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Tonsillitis - Symptoms, causes, treatments, remedies and surgery

What is tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is an infection and inflammation that affects your tonsils. These two, oval-shaped glands are found on either side of the back of your throat, behind your tongue. The tonsils are your body's first line of defence against infection. They are part of your immune system and help trap germs before they make their way into the rest of your body.

Tonsillitis is most common in children and teenagers, but adults can get it too. Tonsillitis may be sore and unpleasant, but it's not usually serious. However, if your symptoms are severe and last for several days, or you are concerned, you should seek medical advice.

Types of tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is commonly caused by a viral infection (virus), but it can also be the result of a bacterial infection (bacteria). Bacterial tonsillitis is also sometimes known as strep throat. You may get tonsillitis once in a while, known as an acute case, or it can be persistent or keep recurring, known as chronic tonsillitis.

What are the symptoms of tonsillitis?

The symptoms of tonsillitis may include:

Tonsillitis symptoms usually get better after 3-4 days. Seek medical advice if symptoms don't improve or get worse.

Is tonsillitis contagious?

Tonsillitis is most common in children between the ages of 5 and 15. This is probably because those are the ages when they're more likely to be exposed to germs and viruses at school. Also, as children's immune systems develop fully, the tonsils usually shrink and are less important.

You don't get tonsillitis directly from someone with the infection, but you can catch whatever caused it through coughs, sneezes or contaminated surfaces. To help prevent infection, use the same simple precautions you would take with a cold or flu:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water
  • Put dirty tissues into a bin
  • Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.

If you, or your child, have symptoms of tonsillitis, the NHS advises that you should avoid spreading infection by staying off work, or keeping your child off school or nursery.

How is tonsillitis treated?

Treatment for tonsillitis depends on:

  • Whether it is bacterial or viral
  • The severity of the symptoms
  • Your individual circumstances
  • Underlying health conditions.

Sometimes your doctor will take a throat swab to be analysed at a laboratory to help determine if your infection is viral or bacterial. If the cause is bacterial, it will show up in your results. If the test for bacteria is negative, it's assumed you have a viral infection - which won't show up on the test.

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