How to diagnose tonsillitis

Updated February 21, 2017

Your tonsils filter out disease organisms. When they become overwhelmed with germs, an acute inflammation of the tonsils, known as tonsillitis, develops. Usually, pharyngitis, an inflammation of the pharynx, or sore throat, accompanies tonsillitis. Tonsillitis is extremely common in children.

Stand in front of a well-lit mirror. Open your mouth as wide as you can.

Examine your tonsils, the two almond-shaped tissues at the back of your tongue. Children's tonsils are usually easier to see than those belonging to adults.

Determine if the tonsils are swollen. If they appear large and more noticeable than you remember, they are probably swollen, a symptom of tonsillitis.

Evaluate the tonsils for increased blood flow. Do they appear engorged with blood? Pulsing? Throbbing? If so, suspect tonsillitis.

Look for a creamy white coating, or a thin white membrane, on the tonsils. Any sign of exudate or a covering on the tonsils is suggestive of tonsillitis.

Take note if you have a sore throat, which is also symptomatic of tonsillitis.

Check your temperature. A fever, along with swollen tonsils, is indicative of tonsillitis, though it's possible to have tonsillitis without fever.

Swallow. Is it difficult or painful? This is a symptom of tonsillitis.

Smell your breath. Cup your hand over your mouth and breath out forcefully, then snif the air in your hand. Does it smell foul? The odor is originating from the germy exudate covering your tonsils.

See your doctor. She can perform a throat culture by running a swab over your tonsils and "growing" the organisms, which will determine whether you have tonsillitis and what germ is causing it.


It's always helpful to know what your tonsils look like before they become diseased. If you have children, periodically examine the insides of their mouths. Become familiar with the appearance of their tongues, tonsils and throats, so when you examine them for illness, you'll recognize differences and changes.


If you have a sore throat and are having difficulty swallowing, talking or breathing, see a doctor immediately or go to your local emergency room. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment.

Things You'll Need

  • Mirrors
  • Thermometers
  • Flashlights
Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

This article was created by a professional writer and edited by experienced copy editors, both qualified members of the Demand Media Studios community. All articles go through an editorial process that includes subject matter guidelines, plagiarism review, fact-checking, and other steps in an effort to provide reliable information.