Consumer Health: Treating tonsillitis

a little girl looking sad and sick, holding her sore throat

Did you know that your tonsils — two oval-shaped pads of tissue at the back of the throat, one on each side — are your immune system’s first line of defense against bacteria and viruses that enter your mouth? This function may make the tonsils particularly vulnerable to infection and inflammation.

Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils. Signs and symptoms of tonsillitis include swollen tonsils, sore throat, difficulty swallowing and tender lymph nodes on the sides of the neck. Since the tonsil’s immune system function declines after puberty, tonsillitis in adults is rare.

Most cases of tonsillitis are caused by infection with a common virus, but bacterial infections also can cause tonsillitis. Because appropriate treatment for tonsillitis depends on the cause, it’s important to get a prompt and accurate diagnosis.

Whether tonsillitis is caused by a viral or bacterial infection, at-home measures can relieve the symptoms and promote recovery. If a virus is the expected cause of tonsillitis, these strategies are the only treatment. If tonsillitis is caused by a bacterial infection, your health care provider will prescribe a course of antibiotics.

Surgery to remove tonsils, once a common procedure to treat tonsillitis, usually is performed only when tonsillitis occurs frequently, doesn’t respond to other treatments or causes serious complications.

Learn more about the treatment of tonsillitis, including at-home measures you might consider.

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