Everything you need to know about tonsillitis

Everything you need to know about tonsillitis

Tonsillitis may be a throat infection  that you’ve heard of, and one that makes you think of children eating endless tubs of ice cream. This association might be because the infection is most common in younger people, but anyone can get it at any age and being able to recognise the symptoms could be beneficial, particularly if you have children complaining of a sore throat.

How do you get tonsillitis?

Most infections are caused by bacteria or a virus, however, tonsillitis can be caused by both of these things. Usually, the infection can stem from another infection, such as the common cold or strep throat, which means that while tonsillitis itself isn’t contagious, the infection within the throat can be passed onto other people. This is why it’s so important to determine whether the infection is tonsillitis and seek a doctor’s advice regarding treatment. Tonsillitis is more common in children, and it’s likely that they’ll pick it up from a school friend, or instance[1].

Can you get tonsillitis without tonsils?

You can only get tonsillitis if you still have your tonsils. For people who frequently get tonsillitis repeatedly, a doctor may suggest having the tonsils removed to prevent the infection from recurring, however this will likely be a last resort[1].

How do you know if you have tonsillitis?

You might have tonsillitis if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms[1]:

  • A sore throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Mild fever and chills
  • Earache
  • Stomach ache
  • A stiff neck
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Tonsils that are red and swollen or have white or yellow spots.

However, tonsillitis can frequently be confused with strep throat. While strep throat can turn into tonsillitis, it’s not always the case that you will have tonsillitis and strep throat. Common symptoms of strep include[2]:

  • A sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Small red spots on the roof of your mouth
  • High fever
  • Body aches
  • Nausea or vomiting.

As you can see, these are quite similar to the symptoms of tonsillitis listed above, but there are some subtle differences to look out for.

It can be hard to ask young children to express how they’re feeling or what hurts, and so you should look for signs of poor appetite, difficulty swallowing and excessive drooling. These symptoms could suggest that they have a very sore throat. You should seek advice from a medical professional if you have a fever that’s higher than 39.5 degrees, neck stiffness, white spots on the tonsils or a sore throat that’s been present for longer than two days. To test for tonsillitis, a doctor will usually swab the back of your throat with a cotton bud. They may also suggest a blood test to check that you don’t have glandular fever[1].

How to get rid of tonsillitis

There are generally three types of tonsillitis – acute, chronic and recurrent. Acute tonsillitis is very common and should go away by itself. In the meantime, some simple pain relief remedies can be taken, such as throat lozenges. Please note that these should not be given to children under the age of 12, as they may be a choking hazard. Instead, you should give them a liquid paracetamol suitable for children and always stick to the recommended doses.

You can also try getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids and gargling warm salty water (again, children shouldn’t try the latter). If the tonsillitis doesn’t go away after around 10 days, you should seek medical advice. For tonsillitis that’s caused by bacteria, antibiotics may be prescribed, however when it’s caused by a viral infection, there’s no specific treatment and it’s a case of waiting for your body to fight it off[1].

For chronic tonsillitis, symptoms can go on for much longer and may be more severe. It’s likely that this type won’t go away by itself and you may need to speak to a doctor for advice. Chronic tonsillitis can cause tonsil stones and, while these can become dislodged themselves, they may need to be removed by a professional[3].

As previously mentioned, for those that experience recurrent tonsillitis, it may be necessary for the tonsils to be removed altogether to stop the infection from returning. A doctor will only do this as a last resort and if you’ve had tonsillitis at least five to seven times in one year, or at least five times in the last two years. It seems that some people are just more susceptible to throat infections than others, and frequently taking antibiotics as a long-term solution isn’t advised[1].


[1] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/tonsillitis/

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/strep-a/

[3] https://apps.nhslothian.scot/refhelp/guidelines/entadult/throat/tonsillectomy/tonsilstonesadults/