Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils, which are two lumps of tissue located at the back of the mouth on either side of and near the opening of the throat.

Tonsillectomy's Cool Cure

What Is Tonsillitis?

The tonsils are collections of lymphatic tissue * involved in helping the body to prevent and fight infection. Sometimes, however, the tonsils themselves become infected with viruses or bacteria. The tonsils swell and sometimes become coated with whitish spots or pus. This condition commonly occurs with pharyngitis * , influenza, or other respiratory * infections.

The first symptom of tonsillitis is usually a sore throat. Fever and chills may follow, and the lymph nodes (glands) under the jaw and in the neck may become swollen and sore. Tiredness and loss of appetite are common. Swallowing may become difficult. Sometimes there is also a middle ear infection because the eustachian (yoo-STAY-ke-an) tube, which connects the throat and middle ear, becomes blocked by the swelling of the tonsils.

Who Gets Tonsillitis?

The palatine, lingual, and pharyngeal tonsils.

The palatine, lingual, and pharyngeal tonsils.
Illustration by Hans of Cassady, Inc. © 2016 Cengage Learning®.

A non-aspirin pain reliever can lessen soreness in the throat. Soft food, soups, milkshakes, and ice pops also help. Getting adequate rest is important, as is drinking enough liquid. Most people start to feel better within five days after the sore throat starts. It might take longer if the tonsillitis is the result of a viral infection.

Can Tonsillitis Be Prevented?

The best way to avoid a bout of tonsillitis is to avoid close contact with people who have respiratory infections. This is especially important for people who have had tonsillitis before. It is important not to share cups or utensils with people who have sore throats or who are coughing and sneezing. It is always important to wash the hands frequently to help prevent the spread of this and other infections.

Will the Doctor Cut Out the Problem?

Recurrent bouts of tonsillitis may cause a doctor to recommend tonsillectomy (ton-si-LEK-to-mee), which means surgery to remove the tonsils. Often, the surgeon removes the adenoids * (also lymphatic tissue near the tonsils) at the same time. Surgery may be considered when a child has had many infections. This surgery was common for many years, although it is currently done less frequently. In some cases, the tonsils are removed to help people with sleep apnea, which is a disorder that causes breathing to stop for brief periods during sleep.

See also Ear Infections (Otitis) • Influenza • Laryngitis • Sleep Disorders: Overview • Sore Throat/Strep Throat


Books and Articles

Drake, Amelia F. “Tonsillectomy.” Medscape, July 21, 2015. (accessed November 17, 2015).


Better Health Channel. “Tonsillitis.” State Government of Victoria. (accessed November 17, 2015).

MedlinePlus. “Tonsillitis.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. (accessed November 17, 2015).

NHS Choices. “Tonsillitis.” National Health Service. (accessed November 17, 2015).


American Academy of Otolaryngology. 1650 Diagonal Rd., Alexandria, VA 22314-2857. Telephone: 703-836-4444. Website: (accessed November 17, 2015).

American Academy of Pediatrics. 141 Northwest Point Blvd., Elk Grove Village, IL 60007-1098. Toll-free: 800-433-9016. Website: (accessed November 17, 2015).

American College of Pediatricians. PO Box 357190, Gainesville, FL 32635-7190. Telephone: 352-376-1877. Website: (accessed November 17, 2015).

University of Virginia Health System. PO Box 800224, Charlottesville, VA 22908. Telephone: 434-924-3627. Website: (accessed November 17, 2015).

* lymphatic tissue is tissue where white blood cells fight invading germs.

* pharyngitis (far-in-JI-tis) is inflammation of the pharynx, part of the throat.

* respiratory (RES-pi-ra-tor-ee) refers to the breathing passages and lungs.

* adenoids (AH-din-oyds) are the fleshy lumps of tissue behind the nose that contain collections of infection-fighting cells of the immune system.

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.