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Tonsillitis: Symptoms, causes and treatments

The tonsils are part of the body's infection-fighting immune system - and are 2 small glands in the throat either side of the base of the tongue.

The tonsils can become infected and swollen. This is called tonsillitis.

What are the symptoms of tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis symptoms usually last around 3-4 days and include:

What causes tonsillitis?

Virus causes of infected tonsils include:

Tonsils can also be infected with bacteria - including group A streptococcus bacteria - that also causes 'strep throat'.

Who gets tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is most common in children, teens and young adults.

Is tonsillitis catching?

You don't get tonsillitis from someone with the infection - but you can catch whatever it was that caused the condition.

These infections can be spread through coughs and sneezes, and through surfaces an infected person has also touched.

The NHS recommends keeping children with tonsillitis off school or nursery - and adults away from work - until the symptoms have got better.

What's the treatment for tonsillitis?

Home care for tonsillitis includes:

Does a doctor need to treat tonsillitis?

In most otherwise healthy adults and children tonsillitis isn't serious.

However, seek medical advice if symptoms don't improve after 4 days - or if the symptoms are so bad it causes problems with breathing, eating or drinking.

The doctor will examine the throat - and may take swab samples from the throat for laboratory tests.

If the tonsillitis is due to a bacterial infection, antibiotics may be recommended. However, doctors may prefer to let the infection get better on its own to avoid overuse of antibiotics that can contribute to antibiotic resistance.

If the infection is serious and antibiotic tablets or syrup aren't helping, antibiotics through an IV drip in hospital may be needed.

Tonsillitis complications

Rarely, there can be complications of bacterial tonsillitis, which include:

What if tonsillitis keeps coming back?

If tonsillitis lasts longer than usual or keeps returning and causing problems, this is called chronic tonsillitis.

In these cases, a doctor may recommend the person has their tonsils out. This operation is called a tonsillectomy.

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