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Tonsillitis Causes & Symptoms

What is tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is a swelling of the pharyngeal tonsils at the back of the throat, caused by a viral or bacterial infection. There are several types of tonsillitis, including: acute tonsillitis, chronic tonsillitis and peritonsillar abscess (complication of acute tonsillitis).

What causes tonsillitis?

Most cases of acute tonsillitis are caused by viral throat infections, while about a quarter of tonsillitis cases are caused by bacterial throat infections (Streptococcus pyogenes (strep) bacteria). Some of the viruses that can lead to tonsillitis include: Herpes simplex virus, Epstein-Barr virus, Cytomegalovirus and Adenovirus.

What are the symptoms of tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis symptoms vary depending on the variation of the condition.

In acute tonsillitis – patients exhibit fever, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, bad breath, pain in the throat, and tenderness when swallowing.

In chronic tonsillitis – infection is persistent. It often causes formation of small pockets (crypts) in the tonsils which harbor bacteria. Frequently, small fouls smelling particles (tonsil stones) are found within these crypts. These stones may contain high quantities of sulfa and can cause bad breath.

In peritonsillar abscess – patients have a severe sore throat, fever, bad breath, difficulty opening the mouth, and often voice changes. It forms in the tissue of the throat next to one of the tonsils and is a complication of an acute tonsillitis. It can be life threatening if left untreated. Therefore, immediate medical attention is required if those symptoms occur.

How is tonsillitis diagnosed?

Patients who exhibit any of the above symptoms should consult a physician as soon as possible. Conditions that go untreated can lead to more serious health conditions.

A doctor will likely perform a general ear, nose and throat examination as well as evaluate a patient’s history and symptoms. Physical examinations may include looking into the mouth with a mirror tool to check the tonsils for signs of tonsillitis. Your doctor may also feel your neck for swollen glands and perform an ultrasound study of the neck.

How is tonsillitis treated?

Tonsillitis may be treated with oral antibiotics if the underlying condition is a bacterial throat infection. In some cases, the condition may be severe enough to warrant a removal of tonsils (tonsillectomy). This is usually necessary when the condition is causing serious problems, such as repeated infections, severe snoring, obstructive sleep apnea or a peritonsillar abscess has developed.
If you are suffering from tonsillitis, the first step towards feeling better is to schedule an evaluation with an experienced ear, nose and throat doctor.

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