Tonsillitis is the inflammation of the tonsils triggered by a bacterial or viral infection. The tonsils are two small rounded masses of tissue located at the back of the throat. They are identical to lymph nodes or glands in terms of tissue type and are part of the immune system.

The tonsils are thought to help protect the body from infection during one’s early years. But sometimes the tonsils themselves are overwhelmed and become infected. They begin to swell and become inflamed when the bacteria goes past the body’s defenses. They do not appear to be essential for immune function in later life. There is no evidence that tonsillectomy reduces a person’s immunity as they grow older. Tonsillitis occurs mainly in the young, but rarely in children less than two years of age.


Most patients suffering from tonsillitis are caused by viruses. Bacteria causes only 15 – 30% of cases.

Many different types of viruses can cause viral tonsillitis but the common cold virus is the most shared cause. There are other viruses such as the Epstein-Barr virus, which is responsible for glandular fever, the measles virus and cytomegalovirus that also cause tonsillitis. Most bacterial tonsillitis cases are connected with a bacterium called “Streptococcus pyogenes”, the most common cause of strep throat.

Symptoms include:

  • sore throat
  • swollen or inflamed tonsils
  • swallowing difficulties
  • fever
  • swollen glands in the neck

Choosing the right treatment is also important. Narrowing down if the main cause is bacterial or viral, this will guide which treatment will bring about the best results. In some cases, surgical removal of the tonsils (tonsillectomy) may be recommended by your doctor if necessary.

Tonsillitis is primarily contagious if the cause is bacterial and may be contagious if the cause is viral. It entirely depends on whether a person has been previously exposed to that particular virus if they are prone to it or not. Tonsillitis caused by Streptococcus pyogenes is highly contagious and tonsillitis caused by the Epstein-Barr virus is not contagious if the person had it before. In either scenario, steps to prevent its spread should be taken seriously. Sore throats are usually linked with colds and flu, strep throat, and tonsillitis.


A sore throat is the most common first sign of a cold and may get better after a day or two. Other cold related symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, and congestion may follow the sore throat. The main symptom of tonsillitis is a moderate to severe sore throat lasting longer than 48 hours and involves inflammation of the tonsils. Other symptoms of tonsillitis may include but not limited to:

  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Inflamed and reddened tonsils with spots of whitish or yellow pus
  • Laryngitis
  • Swollen and tender glands or lymph nodes on the sides of the neck
  • Bad breath
  • Constant fever and chills
  • Fatigue, headache, earache
  • Stomach upset or pain
  • Mouth breathing, noisy breathing, and snoring. These are all due to enlarged tonsils blocking the airways.

Symptoms of tonsillitis are usually cured after three to four days but may last up to two weeks, even with treatment. Dr. Kanwar Kelley is located at Orinda California and if you are suffering from Tonsillitis, don’t hesitate to make an appointment (925) 254-6710. He is an experienced physician in many illnesses who can guide your health in the right direction.

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