Swollen Tonsils Causes Treatment

Swollen Tonsils: Causes, Picture, Symptoms and Treatment

Swollen tonsils refer to a common problem mostly affecting children. Adults can also suffer from the problem that causes problem swallowing or breathing. The contagious condition can spread from one person to another. With early detection and treatment, you can manage the symptoms easily. Swelling of the tonsils is commonly known tonsillitis. Want to know more about the common condition? Then, read ahead to gain comprehensive information about the issue.

What Are Swollen Tonsils?

Tonsils are the two lymph nodes you can find on two sides of your neck. It is located at the back of your throat. It acts as the preliminary defense mechanism against external infections. So, it can protect your body from viral, fungal or bacterial infection. When the tonsils become inflamed due to infection, it results in swelling. So, swollen tonsillitis can result in sore throat, fever, breathing problems, etc. It is one of the common childhood infections. Children need treatment for tonsillitis to prevent severe complications. Since the virus or bacteria causing the issue can spread from one person to another, children in preschool age to mid-teens can develop the problem. Therefore, it is necessary to visit a pediatrician or ENT near you immediately. With early intervention, you can manage the condition without complications.

Causes Of Swollen Tonsils

Swollen Tonsils The tonsils are the two lymph nodes in your neck that acts as the first line of defense against any illness. So, the tonsils produce the necessary white blood cells that enable the body to fight any infection. When any harmful organisms like virus or bacteria enter the body through the mouth, your tonsils combat against them. But, it also makes them vulnerable to such invaders. When the virus or bacteria attacks your tonsils, it can become inflamed. So, you become prone to infection of tonsils. It results in swollen tonsils. The effectiveness of tonsils system declines after puberty. So, it becomes vulnerable to attack from invaders. It can make adults prone to tonsillitis. The common factors resulting in the problem are:

Bacterial Infection

The swelling of the tonsils can occur due to bacterial infection. It is the most common factor resulting in inflammation and infection. Strep bacteria is the culprit behind the problem. It occurs frequently in children of school-going age due to exposure to germs. You need medical attention for such infections as they can affect other vital organs. So, without treatment, you can suffer from severe complications.

Viral Infection

Viruses can also cause inflammation of the tonsils. Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis can also trigger inflammation of the tonsils. So, it can result in swollen tonsils.

The treatment method for tonsillitis varies depending on the underlying cause. So, you need to consult a doctor to determine the exact cause of triggering the problem. It will help in managing the problem easily.

Risk Factors Influencing Swollen Tonsils

Everyone can suffer from inflammation of tonsils. But, some people are more prone to inflammation and swelling compared to others. The factors making individuals more prone to the problem are:

Young Age

Swollen tonsils affect young children. It is more prone among kids of age two or more. The bacteria causing the problem are common in children of school-going age (five to fifteen). Viral tonsillitis affects young children.

Exposure To Germs

Children going to school can come in contact with others who have the infection. So, they get exposed to virus and bacteria through their peers. The frequent exposure to the virus and bacteria can result in tonsillitis.

Symptoms Of Swollen Tonsils

People suffering from swollen tonsils can see different symptoms in their body. Based on the underlying reason for the swelling of the tonsils, you can experience different types of symptoms. The common signs associated with the problem are:

  • A sore throat
  • Pain during swallowing or difficulty swallowing
  • Bad breath
  • Change in voice (scratchy sounding voice)
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Stomach pain
  • Earache
  • Headache
  • Tenderness in neck and jaw due to swollen lymph nodes
  • Stiff neck
  • Tonsils appear red
  • Swelling of tonsils
  • Tonsils have yellow or white spots

Signs In Infants

In young children, it is important to observe their behavior. As they cannot communicate the pain exactly, you may not know the exact reason. But, look for the following signs that indicate the presence of tonsillitis:

  • Increased irritability
  • Excessive drooling
  • Poor appetite

Types Of Tonsillitis

The swollen tonsils are differentiated into several types based on the symptoms and the recovery period. So, the classification of tonsillitis are:

Acute Tonsillitis

The problem can cause inflammation of the tonsils due to a virus or strep A bacteria. It can affect both children and adults. The symptoms caused due to the type can last from two to four days or up to two weeks.

Recurrent Tonsillitis

In such cases, the affected person can experience multiple episodes of swollen tonsils in a single year.

Chronic Tonsillitis

The symptoms of the condition can last more than two weeks. In addition to the common signs, people suffering from the issue can also experience other signs like:

  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Tender lymph nodes in the neck

In some rare cases, the swelling of the throat due to the inflammation can result in breathing trouble. The condition required immediate medical attention. So, seek assistance from your doctor. You must also seek an appointment when you observe the following signs:

  • High fever (temperature higher than 39.5 degree Celsius)
  • Stiffness of neck
  • Muscle weakness
  • A sore throat that does go away after two days

Depending on the severity of the condition, you need treatment. You can consult the doctor to get the right treatment plan that will alleviate the problem.

Diagnosis Swollen Tonsils

When you suffer from a sore throat, fever or other symptoms that do not go away after a few days, you need to see a doctor. Your doctor can diagnose the problem by monitoring your condition. The exact cause of the problem is determined for a successful treatment plan. Therefore, you need to undergo the following diagnostic tests:

Physical Assessment

In most cases, the doctor can assess the problem with physical assessment. The doctor examines the throat of the affected person to check for signs of inflammation or infection. A lighted instrument can help look into the throat. The doctor can also check the ears and nose of children to see additional infections. Ears and nose are a common site of infection in young children affected with tonsillitis. In some cases of strep throat, the condition can trigger a rash on the body. The rash also known as scarlatina can point towards tonsillitis.

In children, the lymph nodes in the neck can swell. So, the doctor checks the neck area to detect the swelling. To detect any breathing problems, the doctor can listen to the breathing of the affected person using a stethoscope. Some underlying health conditions can result in swelling of tonsils. So, the doctor checks the spleen for signs of enlargement. It is mostly performed when the doctor suspects mononucleosis as the reason for the swollen tonsils.

Throat Swab

It is a noninvasive test that can shed light into the type of infection resulting in tonsillitis. During the test, the doctor takes a sample of secretion from the tonsils. A sterile swab is rubbed over the back of the throat and sent to the lab for detection. It detects the presence of streptococcal bacteria. In most cases, the affected person must give more than one swab sample to detect the problem conclusively. If the test comes back as positive, it means strep bacteria causes the inflammation of tonsils. A negative result indicates the presence of the virus behind the problem. The doctor can perform the test much time to conclude the problem.

Throat Swab
Strep A bacteria under microscope

Your doctor can also send the swab sample for culture in the laboratory. The culture can detect the exact cause of throat infection. Based on the results, your doctor can develop the treatment plan to provide relief.

Complete Blood Cell Count (CBC)

The doctor can order a complete blood count test. So, you need to provide a sample of your blood, which is tested in the lab for infection. The test mostly reveals the count of different types of blood cells in the affected person. The elevated values of different blood cells can indicate the types of infection. So, your doctor can detect if virus or bacteria results in the problem. In most cases, the CBC test is not required to diagnose strep throat. It is helpful to detect the problem conclusively when the swab test for strep throat comes back negative. So, it is usually ideal for determining the exact cause of swollen tonsils.

Treatment For Swollen Tonsils

The different treatment options depend on the severity of the issue. The mild cases of tonsillitis do not require medical treatment. Your doctor will advise some home remedies to overcome the problem. The mild cases can occur due to a virus. So, people suffering from cold or flu can experience mild cases. But, the severe cases of swollen tonsils need immediate medicate treatment. Severe cases occur due to bacterial infections. Therefore, if you have a streptococcal infection, then you need antibiotics or other treatment options for overcoming the problem. In severe cases, you have worse symptoms along with the bad breath. The different treatment options available are:

Home Remedies To Ease Swollen Tonsils

For mild cases of tonsillitis, you may not need medical treatment. It can get better with good care at home within a week. You can speed up the clearing of infection by trying some home remedies. It can offer relief from the symptoms and ease your agony. Children affected by the problem can get dehydrated easily. They also avoid food as they cannot swallow it properly. But, hunger and dehydration can make the symptoms worse. So, your child can experience tiredness, headaches, and other issues. Therefore, follow the steps suggested below to ease the severity of the symptoms:

Avoid Dehydration

To avoid dehydration, you need to drink water at regular intervals. If your child suffers from dehydration, drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.


Swollen tonsils can cause fatigue. So, it is essential to get a good rest. Your child needs to sleep properly to ensure they overcome the infection. Sufficient rest can help the body bounce back from the inflammation of tonsils.

Gargle With Salt Water

When you gargle with warm salt water, the sodium in it can help overcome tonsils infection. It can kill the bacteria, virus or fungus that causes the problem. So, you can get relief from the symptoms.

Humidify The Air

Humidify The Air

Tonsillitis can cause sore throat and breathing problems. Therefore, you can use a humidifier to eliminate the dry air. The humidifier adds moisture to the air content. It can ease the sore irritation. You can also try sitting in a steaming bathroom to ease breathing.

Offer Lozenges

Offer Lozenges

Sucking on lozenges can relieve the symptoms of sore throat. Therefore, children above the age of four can suck lozenges to increase saliva production. So, it reduces dryness. The saliva coats the throat that helps with easing the cough reflex.

Avoid Irritants

Irritants can cause an allergic reaction. So, you need to keep your home free from cigarette smoke. You must also keep away from cleaning products that can cause throat irritation.

OTC Pain Medication

For relieving the pain and discomfort associated with a sore throat, you can take OTC (over-the-counter) pain medication. Medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can relieve the pain occurring with tonsillitis. If your child suffers from pain, then consult your doctor before giving the medication.

Treatment For Severe Swollen Tonsils

When the inflammation of tonsils occurs due to bacteria or does not go away after a few days, then you need to see a doctor. Take an appointment with your doctor when you see the symptoms worsening. Your doctor can suggest the following treatment options to overcome the problem.


It is prescribed when your doctor detects bacterial presence behind the infection. You need to take antibiotics as prescribed by the doctor. Sometimes, the antibiotics are given through IV (Intravenously). It is essential to complete the full course of the medication to kill the bacteria. You need to schedule a follow-up visit to the doctor to ensure the effectiveness of the medication.



In recurrent cases of tonsillitis, your doctor suggests surgery. The surgical method known as tonsillectomy removes the tonsils completely. Earlier the procedure was common to manage the issue. But, today, the doctors recommend the procedure for people with chronic tonsillitis or swelling of the tonsils that occurs frequently. It is also recommended for tonsillitis that does not respond to other treatment options.

Apart from the different options to treat the condition, the doctors also offer solutions to overcome pain and dehydration. Therefore, you need to take pain medication to relieve a sore throat. Intravenous fluids can overcome dehydration due to the condition.

Complications Due To Swollen Tonsils

Ignore the swelling or inflammation of the tonsils can result in severe distress. It can also result in life-threatening problems. Chronic or frequent tonsillitis can result in the following complications:

Breathing Problems

The inflammation of the tonsils glands can obstruct your airway. It can result in breathing complication. People suffering from inflammation can find it difficult to breathe properly. It is a severe problem for young children.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Tonsillitis can become severe without proper treatment. So, people suffering from it can experience obstructive sleep apnea. It is a condition occurring due to swelling of the airways. People affected by the problem find it difficult to sleep properly. The inability to breathe properly can make them get up in the middle of the night.

Tonsillar Cellulitis

The infection of the tonsils can worsen and spread sores to other areas. The condition also known as tonsillar cellulitis can spread the infection deep into the surrounding areas. So, you can suffer from infection in other areas of the body.

Peritonsillar Abscess

Peritonsillar Abscess

The infection can result in the buildup of pus. It mostly occurs behind one or both tonsils. So, you need medical assistance to drain the collection of pus. You need to undergo more surgeries to get relief from the problem.

Complications Due To Strep Infection

Swollen tonsils caused due to strep bacteria can trigger further complications without medical treatment. The inflammation or infection caused by group A streptococcus needs antibiotic treatment. Treatment is also necessary for other streptococcal bacteria. If you fail to receive treatment, never take the full course of antibiotics, or the medication does not kill the bacteria completely, then you face the following complications:

Rheumatic Fever

Rheumatic fever is a rare disorder affecting the heart, joint, as well as other tissues. It is most common in children who fail to get the necessary treatment for tonsillitis. The inflammation can affect vital organs and result in life-threatening problems.

Poststreptococcal Glomerulonephritis

The problem affects your kidneys. So, kidney inflammation can result in inadequate removal of waste from the body. Since your kidneys fail to work well, it can cause an inability to remove excess fluids from the blood.

Preventing Tonsillitis

You need to take care of yourself or your child in case of suffering from the swelling in the tonsils. But, can you prevent tonsillitis? You can take some steps that will reduce the risk of the inflammation of the tonsils. Tonsillitis can spread from one person to another. The bacteria can spread to others from the infected person. So, you need to follow the pointers to make you less vulnerable to the problem:

Avoid Close Contact With Infection

Children need to avoid close contact with people who are sick. People who have an active infection can suffer from sore throat. Such people can spread the infection through sneezing or coughing. So, you need to limit close contact with affected people to reduce the risk. If you suffer from tonsillitis, then stay away from others until you have low chances of spreading the disease.

Wash Hands Frequently

If you face the risk of coming in contact with people with infections, sore throat, cold, or flu, then try to wash your hands. Your hands can carry the bacteria that can spread the disease. So, wash your hands at frequent intervals using anti-bacterial soap or hand wash.

Avoid Sharing Food And Drinks

You need to avoid sharing food and drinks. It puts you at risk of infection when people you come in contact have contagious diseases. The bacteria can spread through the sharing of food items. Therefore, never share food and drinks when you think someone has tonsillitis.


Swollen tonsillitis needs immediate medical attention. The swelling can result in breathing problem. It can cause discomfort and can have fatal complications. Therefore, it is better to seek medical help. The problem if ignored can cause complications like disturbed sleep of spreading of infection to surrounding tissue. By taking medications, you can prevent unwanted complication. You will feel better within twenty-four hours of taking antibiotics. But, it is important to complete the antibiotics course prescribed by the doctor to eliminate the infection. With proper care and assistance, you can reduce the discomfort and risks associated with the problem.

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