Signs & Symptoms of Tonsillitis

Updated November 21, 2016

Tonsils are lymph gland tissue located at the back of the throat. Tonsillitis occurs when the tissue becomes infected by a virus or bacteria. Tonsillitis is more prevalent in children but can be present in adults, too. Tonsilitis is rarely seen in children under the age of one year. It appears most frequently in children four to seven years old and less so in older children according the book "Tonsils and the Adenoid."

Sore Throat

A sore throat may be one of the early indicators of tonsillitis. Pain when swallowing is typical. Less common but also a symptom may be a change in or loss of voice. Over-the-counter sore throat medications can be used to treat the sore throat. Warm liquids such as tea or broth ease the discomfort of swallowing. Gargling with warm salt water is another soothing treatment.


Fever is associated with tonsillitis. Fevers of 101 are usual. Sometimes chills accompany the fever. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen should be given to reduce fever and relieve pain. Do not administer aspirin because of the risk of Reye's syndrome in children under 12 years of age.


Abdominal pain in children is common. General achiness is also a frequent complaint. A loss of appetite and some vomiting may occur. Headaches and earaches are not unheard of. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen are reliable pain relievers for these symptoms.


The tonsils are visible in the back of the throat. They may appear swollen and red. Swelling of the lymph nodes may be apparent in the neck. White spots may appear on the tonsils, or pus may be present. Pain medication should help the discomfort unless the swelling becomes severe.


If the tonsils swell significantly, they can obstruct the airways, causing sleep apnoea and other conditions. Swallowing becomes extremely painful, and eating or drinking is nearly impossible. If the tonsillitis goes without treatment, an abscess in the soft tissue round the tonsil can develop. In rare situations, the bloodstream, neck or chest can be affected by the abscess. In children, the inability to swallow can cause drooling. A doctor's care should be sought for these conditions, and antibiotics will likely be prescribed. Surgery is reserved for chronic cases in which the patient has tonsillitis seven or more times in a year, five or more times each year for two years or three or more times each year for three years.


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