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Everything You Need To Know About Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is a common condition that can be quite uncomfortable. Fortunately, tonsillitis is very treatable. In this guide, we’ll be breaking down the causes, symptoms, treatments and everything else you need to know about tonsillitis. Read on to learn more and make sure to make an appointment with Circle Medical today if you’re experiencing tonsillitis symptoms!

A Brief Overview

Tonsillitis is a common condition that occurs when the tonsils become infected and inflamed. Tonsillitis typically affects children and teens, but it can occur at any age. If you have tonsillitis you may experience symptoms like sore throat, difficulty swallowing, swollen tonsils, fever and more.

While rarer, tonsil removal may be necessary. However, it can typically be treated with at-home treatment and/or antibiotics. If you experience persistent symptoms, make sure to consult a medical professional to get an accurate diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan.

What Are Tonsils?

Tonsils are small, oval-shaped tissue masses located at the back of the throat. Tonsils play a role in filtering out germs and bacteria to help defend the body against infection. Tonsils can vary in size from person to person, but they typically appear red or swollen when infected, making them more prominent.

While tonsils can help prevent infections, they can also become the site of infection themselves, leading to conditions like tonsillitis.

Types of Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis can be classified into several different types. These types are mostly to categorize the frequency or duration of a tonsillitis infection. They include:

  • Acute tonsillitis — A common type of tonsillitis is acute tonsillitis. This is a sudden onset of symptoms that typically lasts for several days. It sometimes can take up to two weeks to clear up.
  • Recurrent tonsillitis — Recurrent tonsillitis is when you get tonsillitis several times per year. 
  • Chronic tonsillitis — Chronic tonsillitis is rarer and is characterized by persistent and recurrent episodes of infection. In cases of chronic tonsillitis, tonsil removal surgery may be considered as a treatment option.

As always, it’s best to consult a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis and a medically supervised treatment plan.

What Are the Causes?

Tonsillitis can be caused by either viral or bacterial infections. The most common causes are viral infections, usually from the common cold or flu. Bacterial infections, such as strep, can also lead to tonsillitis. 

Certain risk factors may increase your chances of developing tonsillitis. These risk factors include:

  • Age — Tonsillitis is most common in children and teens. Typically, most cases of tonsillitis occur in people aged 5 to 15. This age group is more prone to bacterial infections while viral infections are more common for very young children. Elderly people also have a higher risk of developing tonsillitis.
  • Exposure to germs — Kids at school have more exposure to germs. This increases their risk of being exposed to the viruses and bacteria that cause tonsillitis.

What Are the Symptoms?

Tonsillitis can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms. These symptoms may include:

  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • Red or swollen tonsils
  • Fever
  • Tender lymph nodes on the neck
  • Bad breath
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Drooling

For young children who are unable to properly communicate their symptoms, you may also notice refusal to eat or the child being more fussy than usual. Make sure to note all the symptoms and consult a medical professional for the best path forward.

Diagnosis and Medical Evaluation

To properly diagnose tonsillitis, you will need to consult a medical professional. A health care professional will be able to conduct the proper tests to determine the cause of your symptoms and develop a treatment plan to address the condition. Typically, diagnosis for tonsillitis consists of the following methods:

  • Physical exam — Your doctor will typically start with a physical exam. This exam will involve looking at the back of the throat for signs of inflammation or swelling. They will also look for a rash that is characteristic of tonsillitis known as scarlatina. Other exam steps may include feeling lymph nodes on the neck for sensitivity and swelling, checking for fever and looking at the ears and nose for additional signs of infection.
  • Throat swab — If your doctor suspects tonsillitis, they will typically conduct a throat swab. This involves gently swabbing the back of the throat with a cotton swab and then testing the secretions in a lab to look for the presence of bacteria.
  • Complete blood cell count (CBC) — If a strep test comes up negative, your doctor may order a complete blood cell count to rule out other causes of tonsillitis. A CBC test involves a blood draw and looks at the counts of different blood cells. Higher or lower levels of certain blood cells may indicate an infection.

A medical evaluation is necessary to receive treatment for tonsillitis outside of home treatments. With a diagnosis and treatment plan, you will be able to treat your tonsillitis more quickly and rule out any other potential causes for your symptoms.

Treatment Options

When it comes to treating tonsillitis, the appropriate course of action will depend on the cause and severity of the infection. 

  • Viral tonsillitis — For viral tonsillitis, home remedies will be the only solution. Viral infections typically clear up in one to two weeks. Here are some of the common at-home solutions your health care provider will likely recommend:
  • Rest
  • Lots of fluids
  • Saltwater gargles
  • Lozenges
  • Humidifiers
  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain and fever
  • Warm and easy-to-swallow foods and beverages. Soups and hot teas may soothe the throat while also providing the nutrition needed to recover.
  • Bacterial tonsillitis — In cases of bacterial tonsillitis, your health care provider will likely provide you with prescription antibiotics. Penicillin is a common antibiotic for tonsillitis, though other antibiotics can be prescribed for those allergic to penicillin. It’s important to take the full course of antibiotics as prescribed by your health care provider, even if you feel better before they’re gone. This will ensure that you completely rid your body of the infection.

If tonsillitis episodes become recurrent or chronic, tonsil removal surgery, known as a tonsillectomy, may be recommended.

Prevention Tips

There are several preventive steps you can take to reduce the risk of developing tonsillitis. These steps include:

  • Practicing good hygiene — Washing your hands frequently with soap and water, especially during cold and flu season, can help minimize your exposure to germs. Also, avoid sharing personal items such as utensils, drinks and toothbrushes to help prevent the spread of germs.
  • Take care of your body — Make sure to maintain a healthy lifestyle through good nutrition and getting enough sleep. A healthy immune system can help fight off infections like tonsillitis.
  • Avoid the spread of illness — Make sure to stay home if you’re sick to prevent the spread of illness or risk exposure to more germs. Also, if you notice someone is sick make sure to minimize your exposure to them and maintain distance as best you can.

Following these prevention tips can give you the best chance of avoiding tonsillitis.

Do You Need Tonsil Removal?

In some cases, tonsil removal will be the recommended treatment option for individuals experiencing recurrent or severe tonsillitis episodes. If an individual is constantly battling with tonsillitis, tonsil removal may be the best option.

Tonsil removal is a surgical procedure that requires a recovery period, so it’s often the last recommended treatment when other treatment options aren’t working. A medical professional will be able to determine the best path of treatment for you and if tonsil removal surgery is appropriate.

When to Consult a Medical Professional

If you are experiencing symptoms of tonsillitis, it’s best to consult a health care provider. They will be able to diagnose the type of tonsillitis and the cause so they can provide you with the best treatment possible. While viral tonsillitis doesn’t typically require medical intervention, it’s best to rule out bacterial infections or other conditions through a visit to your doctor.

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Connect with a doctor or online provider

You can always schedule an in-person appointment with a primary care provider, or you can enjoy the convenience of telehealth if you prefer to receive care from the comfort of your home. Full-stack primary care clinics like Circle Medical offer both options, so you can get care the way you want. Connect with a primary care provider if you’re feeling the symptoms of tonsillitis.

Book an appointment with a Circle Medical telehealth provider today!

As a full-stack primary care clinic, Circle Medical makes it easy to get healthcare the way you want. You can come to an in-person clinic or you can utilize our convenient telehealth services. Our board-certified health care professionals are here for all of your primary care needs. You can even make a same-day appointment to get started as soon as possible. Book your appointment with a Circle Medical telehealth provider today!

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