Tonsillitis: Symptoms & Causes

by Ishani Bose last updated -

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Tonsillitis is an inflammation, which is typically caused by a viral infection, although certain bacterial strains can also cause the condition. According to a study published in the GMS Current Topics Otorhinolaryngol Head and Neck Surgery, the most common demographic affected by tonsillitis are young children and adults going through puberty. At this point in their development, the tonsils are at their largest and seem to be most susceptible to infection.

The function of these tonsils is primarily as an immunomodulator. These clusters of tissue are the body’s first line of defense against airborne pathogens but when they become infected, the symptoms are painful and must be addressed. Roughly 2% of the population will experience tonsillitis each year.

What is Tonsillitis?

According to Medline Plus, tonsillitis is defined as an inflammation of the tonsils, which are a number of small groupings of lymphoid tissues in the throat and esophagus. When people refer to inflammation, they are typically referring to the palatine tonsils, which are two large clusters of lymphoid tissues at the back of the throat, and are visible when the mouth is opened. The other tonsils, which may also be infected or inflamed, are the tubal tonsils, lingual tonsils or adenoids. When the Streptococcus A bacterial strain is the cause, the condition manifests as strep throat, an extremely common condition that affects 3-4% of the population each year.

Symptoms of Tonsillitis

The most common symptoms of tonsillitis include :

According to a report published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences Journal, a white coating will form on the surface of the tonsils, which will likely be swollen or inflamed. It will become painful to swallow food, as they will scrape by the inflamed tissues, and the glands in the throat will also swell up and become tender. The increased size of the tonsils may cause your voice to become muffled or scratchy.

In young children, common symptoms may be a refusal to eat anything, excessive fussiness, and an increase in drooling, due to the difficulty or pain of swallowing. Parents should immediately take their kids to the doctor upon observing these symptoms. Most cases of tonsillitis can be remedied within 7-10 days, but if strep throat goes untreated, more serious complications may arise.

However, it is only essential to visit a doctor if breathing becomes difficult or labored in any way by excessively inflamed tonsils. At this point, a more aggressive treatment protocol must be pursued. The tonsils are a part of the immune defenses of the body, but they are not essential, and can, therefore, be removed if necessary. Complete removal of the tonsils is particularly common when strep throat and tonsil infections occur more than once per year, says a report published in the Swedish Dental Journal Supplement.

Causes of Tonsillitis

As mentioned above, tonsillitis is caused by a variety of bacterial and viral infections, such as the Epstein-Barr virus and the Streptococcus A bacterium. Aside from the infectious bacteria and viruses that cause this condition, there are also a few risk factors that increase your chances of contracting the infection, such as your age and your exposure to others who may be infected.


Young people are particularly vulnerable to tonsillitis, as their immune system is still developing, and they are more prone to poor hygiene, such as putting their hands in their mouths without cleaning them. According to a report published in the Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology, the prime age for tonsillitis in children is 5-15 years of age, but older people are also susceptible, as their immune systems may be weaker.

Exposure Level

According to a study published in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, this infection is easily passed through the air, so places with high concentrations of children or sick individuals will be breeding grounds for the pathogens that cause tonsillitis. As a teacher, parent of a young child or hospital worker, your risk of contracting this infection is high, so taking the proper precautions is essential.

Should you or your loved ones experience any of the aforementioned symptoms, we would advise you to consult your medical supervisor immediately. Protection Status
About the Author

An alumnus of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, Ishani Bose has worked as a reporter/features writer for several leading newspapers and organizations in India. It was her love for food, health, and wellness that brought her to Organic Facts. As a Content & Culinary Outreach Specialist, she is responsible for developing and managing the website’s recipe section. An avid Instagrammer who knows the latest social media trends, Ishani helps strategize and create authentic content for the website’s social media platforms. When not writing or cooking, you’ll find her reading, traveling, soaking herself in music, arts, and culture in every way possible. Ishani is currently pursuing an online program on “Introduction to Food and Health” by Stanford University, US. 

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