What do swollen tonsils look like?

Updated July 19, 2017

The tonsils are the tissue on the left and right sides of the back of your throat. While healthy tonsils will have a pinkish colour and a uniform shape, swollen tonsils may be red, enlarged and painful.

Acute Tonsillitis

Both bacterial and viral infections can cause acute tonsillitis, which often consists of a severe sore throat, fever, swollen lymph nodes the neck and swollen tonsils. Strep throat, a bacterial infection, can these symptoms, and it must be treated with antibiotics.

Chronic Tonsillitis

Chronic tonsillitis can be another contributor to swollen tonsils. Long-term or recurrent low-grade infections of the tonsils fall into this category. If you continue to have persistent tonsil infections, you may be a candidate for surgical removal of the tonsils, known as tonsillectomy.


Another cause of swollen tonsils can be what is known as peritonsillar abscess. White pus on one of your tonsils and significant pain can be signs of this condition. The infection must be treated by your doctor and involves draining the abscess.

Tonsil stones

Tonsil stones, or tonsilloliths, are more benign than a peritonsilar abscess, although they may cause discomfort and swelling. The stones are small white or grey, foul smelling deposits that can form in the holes, or crypts, of the tonsils. If they become bothersome, consult your doctor.

Steps to take

If you notice significant swelling of your tonsils and have pain, discharge, pus or a fever, see your doctor for treatment. You may have a bacterial infection that requires antibiotics, and it is vital that you continue the full course of antibiotics even as symptoms improve.

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About the Author

Nathan Schwartz holds a master's degree and works in the health care field as a technologist. Schwartz has five years of freelance writing experience, and has written reference material on a range of health and wellness topics.