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The tonsils are part of the body’s immune system and work to fight germs that enter through the nose and mouth.

What are the tonsils and what do they do?

Tonsils are two patches of tissue located on either side at the back of the throat. They can be seen in the mirror when you open your mouth widely and peer into the very back of the throat.

The tonsils are an important part of the immune system and work to fight viruses and bacteria. Sometimes the germs that are collected by the tonsils can cause them to become infected.


Infection of the tonsils is called tonsillitis.Children from preschool age to teenagers are the group most prone to tonsillitis.The infection is often due viruses, but streptococcal bacteria – strep throat – is another common cause of tonsillitis.

When the tonsils are infected, they become sore and swollen. They may appear reddened and sometimes white or yellow patches form on the tonsils causing foul breath.

Treatment of tonsillitis is based on the cause of the infection, so it is important to see your health care provider to obtain an accurate diagnosis.

Symptoms of tonsillitis

Common symptoms of tonsillitis include the following:

  • Sore throat
  • Tonsil redness
  • Enlargement of tonsils
  • Painful or difficult swallowing
  • Raspy voice
  • Fever or chills
  • Stomachache
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Enlarged or tender lymph nodes in the neck

Very young children with tonsillitis may become fussy, drool or have decreased appetite.

Treatment of tonsillitis

If tonsillitis occurs as a result of a viral infection, antibiotics are not effective. Palliative care measures to reduce discomfort and promote healing include:

  • Rest
  • Fluids – including warm beverages and popsicles to soothe the throat
  • Throat lozenges
  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Warm saltwater gargle (using 1 teaspoon salt in one cup of warm water, gargle and spit)

Bacterial infections, such as strep, are treated with antibiotics. It is important to take the full course of antibiotics, even if symptoms improve, to keep the infection from returning or spreading.

Chronic infections that don’t resolve with antibiotic treatment or recur multiple times may require removal of the tonsils.

Tonsillectomy is usually performed as an outpatient procedure using general anesthesia. There are no external incisions and the procedure usually takes less than one hour. The patient is able to return home the same day with instructions to keep the head elevated on 2 or more pillows and apply ice packs to the neck intermittently to control swelling.

Prescription or over-the-counter pain medications may be given and antibiotics may also be prescribed.

A soft diet is recommended during the recovery process and hot drinks should be avoided for several days after the procedure. Adequate fluid intake is encouraged to avoid dehydration.

Sore throat, vomiting, fever and ear pain may occur following tonsillectomy. Immediately report any bleeding from the mouth or nose to your surgeon.


Otolaryngology (Ent) Surgeons

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