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Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils, which are situated at the back of the mouth. The terms pharyngitis or pharyngotonsillitis may also be used to describe tonsillitis.


  • Sore throat
  • White or yellow spots of pus may be visible on the surface of the tonsils
  • Swallowing may be painful and difficult
  • Fever
  • Bad breath
  • Swollen and tender lymph nodes (glands) under the jaw
  • Tiredness, with a general feeling of being unwell
  • Snoring may indicate airway obstruction
  • Children may complain of stomach ache
  • The adenoids are often swollen and congested
  • Acute episodes of tonsillitis usually resolve over a few days, but may last for up to two weeks, or even longer if the condition becomes chronic.
  • Tonsillitis is considered recurrent if acute tonsillitis is experienced repeatedly over one or more years.
  • Sometimes the infection spreads from the tonsils to the sinuses, nasal passages or ears. It the throat tissue adjacent to the tonsils becomes involved, an abscess may form, causing severe pain with breathing and swallowing difficulties,  and necessitating medical intervention.
  • Recurrent or chronic tonsillitis may also increase the risk of to glue ear (chronic otitis media).


Along with the adenoids, the tonsils are composed of lymphatic tissue, and form part of the immune system, helping to prevent infectious organisms entering the body via the mouth (i.e. in food or air). Tonsillitis develops if they become infected themselves.

Most cases of tonsillitis are caused by viral infection. Along with others, the viruses responsible may include Epstein-Barr virus (which also causes glandular fever), viruses from the Herpes simplex family, cytomegalovirus, and the measles virus.

Bacterial infections are less frequent, but when they do occur tend to be caused by one of the Streptococcus bacteria.

Children are at particular risk of tonsillitis, and are more susceptible if there is a family history of tonsillitis or atopic disease (i.e. hay fever, dermatitis or asthma). Other predisposing factors include living in over-crowded conditions, and being malnourished.

Diet and lifestyle

  • As tonsillitis is usually viral, antibiotics are not always helpful, but if they are prescribed, it is important to finish the entire course of the medicine.
  • Make sure you get plenty of rest too – it will help you recover more quickly.
  • During tonsillitis, maintain your body fluids by drinking lots of water. If you are concerned that you or your child may be becoming dehydrated. Seek medical advice.
  • Gargles made with sage or thyme herbal teas are traditional remedies for throat infections. To make the gargle, pour 100 mL of boiling water over half a teaspoon of either herb. Cover, and allow it to steep until it cools enough to use as a gargle. Strain the tea and use as a gargle several times a day, making a fresh batch every time.
  • To relieve the pain of tonsillitis, try sucking on ice cubes or ice blocks. Drinking beverages at a cool rather than cold temperature may be less painful to the inflamed tonsils.
  • Don’t be alarmed if your child doesn’t feel like eating when they have tonsillitis – the appetite will normally return quickly once it no longer hurts to swallow. In the meantime, fresh juices, soft mushy foods and pureed soups may be more appetising than food they have to chew.
  • Many natural therapists believe that children with food allergies or intolerances are more susceptible to tonsillitis than other kids, and dairy intolerance is regarded as a particularly important consideration. Talk to your healthcare professional for more information.

Important notes

  • If you or your child are experiencing breathing difficulties, seek medical assistance urgently.
  • Surgery is sometimes advised for those with recurrent tonsillitis. Talk to your healthcare professional for more information.

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