What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils, and can be either be bacterial or viral. The tonsils are a pair glands situated on either side of the back of the throat. Tonsils are supposed to help fight infection, but how effective they are still isn't certain - and plenty of people who've had their tonsils removed seem to thrive perfectly well without them.

You can catch tonsillitis in much the same way as a cough or cold, either by inhaling airborne droplets of other people's saliva or through contact with hard surfaces or another person's hands that are carrying the infection. Infection happens when the bacteria are transferred to the mouth or nose.

The illness can affect anyone but it's commonest in young children and adolescents.

What are the symptoms of Tonsillitis?

Symptoms typically emerge two to four days after coming into contact with the virus or bacteria. They include a very sore throat, white pus-filled spots on the tonsils, swollen glands under the jawline and in the neck, and sometimes a fever (temperature of 38°C or above). The sufferer might also have a cough, headache, and feel generally unwell.

What are the treatments and remedies of Tonsillitis?

Because most cases of tonsillitis are viral, they usually clear up on their own with self help, but if your GP suspects it's bacterial, a swab may be taken to confirm the diagnosis. This isn't as straightforward as it sounds, though, as many people are carriers of the bacteria that can cause tonsillitis, so it can be hard to know whether the sufferer is just carrying the bacteria or has been infected by it. If the bacteria is detected in the swab and symptoms are showing no improvement or getting worse, or if your fever isn't coming down, your GP may prescribe antibiotics.

If tonsillitis recurs five or more times in a year, the advice may be to have the tonsils removed surgically.

Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be taken to ease symptoms of sore throat and headache.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net