Our tonsils are large, fleshy glands that sit at the back of our throat and help fight infection. When these glands become inflamed, it is a condition called tonsillitis. 

Overview of Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis can be caused by bacteria or viruses, most commonly streptococcus or strep. Other viruses include adenoviruses, Epstein-Barr or mononucleosis, herpes simplex, cytomegalovirus, or measles. Most of these germs are contagious.


While each case of tonsillitis may cause different symptoms, common effects of the condition include:

  • Swollen tonsils that look red, yellow, gray, or white.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck or jaw.
  • Blisters or sores on the throat that are painful when swallowing.
  • Snoring
  • Bad breath
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Fatigue

If tonsillitis doesn’t improve, a complication can surface called peritonsillar abscess that is caused when an area around the tonsils fills with bacteria. This abscess may cause extreme pain in your throat, a muffled voice, drooling, and difficulty opening your mouth. An abscess can block your airway, so it is best to seek treatment immediately.


Tonsillitis is diagnosed by asking for a patient's health history and conducting a physical examination. A doctor may also ask for a strep test, a swab of your tonsils, to rule out strep as the cause. If you are concerned you may have tonsillitis, or a peritonsillar abscess, talk to your healthcare provider.


A physician may recommend a series of treatment options to help quell the pain and shorten the length of tonsillitis. Antibiotics may also be prescribed if the tonsillitis is bacteria-caused. Similarly, if a virus is the cause, antiviral medications may be in order. If tonsillitis becomes chronic, a doctor may consider tonsillectomy (tonsil surgery).


Tonsillitis cannot be prevented through vaccines. However, exposure to tonsillitis can be limited by practicing a few healthy hygiene tips. If you suspect someone is suffering from tonsillitis or a sore throat, keep your distance from them and avoid sharing utensils, cups, or personal objects with them. 

Frequent hand washing is important as well. Those suffering from tonsillitis or a sore throat should cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing to prevent germs from spreading.

© 2018 Intermountain Healthcare. All rights reserved. The content presented here is for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and it should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.