A mom and her daughter who is coloring after being treated for tonsilitis

In Denver and Lone Tree, Colorado

Tonsillitis refers to inflammation of the pharyngeal tonsils (glands at the back of the throat, visible through the mouth). The inflammation may involve other areas of the back of the throat, including the adenoids and the lingual tonsils (tonsil tissue at the back of the tongue). There are several variations of tonsillitis: acute, recurrent, and chronic tonsillitis, and peritonsillar abscess.

Viral or bacterial infections and immunologic factors lead to tonsillitis and its complications. Nearly all children in the United States experience at least one episode of tonsillitis. Due to improvements in medical and surgical treatments, complications associated with tonsillitis, including mortality, are rare.

Risk Factors for Tonsilitis

Tonsillitis most often occurs in children, but rarely in those younger than 2 years old. Tonsillitis caused by bacteria (streptococcus species) typically occurs in children aged 5 to 15 years, while viral tonsillitis is more common in younger children. A peritonsillar abscess is usually found in young adults but can occur occasionally in children. The patient’s history often helps identify the type of tonsillitis present (acute, recurrent, or chronic).

Causes of Tonsilitis

The herpes simplex virus, Group A Beta Hemolytic Streptococcus (GABHS), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), cytomegalovirus, adenovirus, and the measles virus cause most cases of acute pharyngitis and acute tonsillitis.

Bacteria cause 15-30 percent of pharyngotonsillitis cases; GABHS is the cause for most bacterial tonsillitis. (“strep throat”).

Symptoms of Tonsilitis

The type of tonsillitis determines what symptoms will occur.

Acute tonsillitis. Patients have a fever, sore throat, foul breath, dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), odynophagia (painful swallowing), and tender cervical lymph nodes. Airway obstruction due to swollen tonsils may cause mouth breathing, snoring, nocturnal breathing pauses, or sleep apnea. Lethargy and malaise are common. These symptoms usually resolve in 3 to 4 days but may last up to two weeks despite therapy.

Recurrent tonsillitis. This diagnosis is made when an individual has multiple episodes of acute tonsillitis in a year.

Chronic tonsillitis. Individuals often have a chronic sore throat, halitosis, tonsillitis, and persistently tender cervical nodes.

Peritonsillar abscess. Individuals often have severe throat pain, fever, drooling, foul breath, trismus (difficulty opening the mouth), and muffled voice quality, such as the “hot potato” voice (as if talking with a hot potato in his or her mouth).

Diagnosing Tonsilitis

Patients will undergo a general ear, nose, and throat examination as well as a review of the patient’s medical history. 

A physical examination of a young patient with tonsillitis may find fever and enlarged inflamed tonsils covered by pus.

Treatment for Tonsilitis

Tonsillitis is usually treated with a regimen of antibiotics. Fluid replacement and pain control are important. Hospitalization may be required in severe cases, particularly when there is airway obstruction. When the condition is chronic or recurrent, a surgical procedure to remove the tonsils is often recommended. Peritonsillar abscess may need more urgent treatment to drain the abscess.

Contact Us

Tonsilitis diagnosis and treatment are available at Integrated ENT. Call us at (303) 706-1616 to schedule a consultation or you may request an appointment online.