How Common Is Tonsillitis in Adults?

A doctor may recommend tonsil removal if tonsils are infected on a regular basis.
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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2014
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Tonsillitis is far less common in adults than it is in children, but the condition does occur in adults and is becoming much more frequent. Some doctors state that the increase in tonsillitis in adults is due to the fact that more adults still have intact tonsils. In the past, a person was much more likely to have them removed in childhood. Still, adults have often built up a significant level of immunity to common infections. As such, they remain less likely to develop tonsillitis in comparison to children.

Tonsillitis is a condition that develops when the oval-shaped tissue, called tonsils, at the back of a person’s throat becomes inflamed. The condition causes a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, fever, and enlarged glands. Often, a person with this condition also has whitish or yellowish patches that form on his tonsils. Swallowing may become difficult, and bad breath may develop as well. A person with tonsillitis may also develop a stomachache, stiff neck, or headache along with the condition.

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The vast majority of people who get tonsillitis are children and people who are in the early-to-mid teens. Adults, however, can still be vulnerable to the condition. It is difficult to say just how common tonsillitis is in adults, but doctors report that incidents of the illness are on the rise. It is difficult to say why this is so, but scientists have a theory. Many state that tonsillitis in adults is more likely now because the childhood removal of the tonsils is less frequent. This makes sense, as an adult without tonsils is at no risk of contracting the infection.

Before the 1980s, many people had their tonsils routinely removed when they developed tonsillitis as children. Medical opinion on this procedure eventually changed, however. By the mid-1980s, doctors no longer thought removal of the tonsils should be a routine procedure. As such, most people enter adulthood today with their tonsils still intact. Their mere presence translates into more cases of tonsillitis in adults.

Despite the fact that doctors have seen an increase in cases of tonsillitis in adults, it is still less likely to develop in adults than in children. This may be due to the fact that adults often have built up a natural immunity to a range of illnesses, just by virtue of living for a significant period of time. As such, they are less likely to catch infections that lead to tonsillitis.

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amypollick
Post 6

@anon335648: Here's something else to think about. Have you noticed the rise in the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD -- particularly in little boys -- correlates almost directly to the decline in routine tonsillectomies/adenoidectomies?

In either the first or second season of the show "48 Hours," Dan Rather did a piece on a little boy, age 7, who was diagnosed with ADHD. He was in second grade, reading on a kindergarten level.

One night, his mother noticed he was struggling to breathe as he slept, and took him to his doctor, who suggested a sleep study. The sleep study showed the child was waking up something like 30 times an *hour*! He was referred to a pediatric ENT, who said the boy's tonsils and adenoids were huge and needed to come out; they were obstructing his airway when he slept.

Children, incidentally, don't show the same sleep deprivation symptoms that adults do. Ever tried to get a hyper five-year-old down for a nap? You get the idea.

Anyway, the little boy had the surgery and Dan visited the family about six or eight weeks later. Another sleep study had showed he was getting good, deep sleep every night, and he had come off all his ADHD meds. The kicker is that his behavior problems stopped completely and in six weeks, he was reading above grade level. *Above* grade level, where before, he was barely reading at a Kindergarten level. His teacher said his behavior problems disappeared like turning off a faucet -- just that quickly.

I am convinced that many little boys, especially, who are diagnosed with ADD/ADHD are actually suffering from sleep deprivation due to sleep apnea, and this could be stopped by removing the tonsils and adenoids. It just makes sense.

anon335648
Post 5

It appears to me that medical opinions are wrong. Routine tonsillectomies should never have fallen out of practice. The only reason it stopped is because docs were scared of lawsuits from surgical complications, which is a shame because I foresee this issue becoming a health epidemic, as more and more viruses are rearing their heads.

There is no evidence that the generations who received this procedure suffered any adverse health problems. The wait and see approach is dumb, because if an adult happens to develop chronic tonsillitis, the surgery is even riskier and recovery is more painful. So it's best to do this surgery in childhood.

anon317980
Post 4

I have to have my tonsils removed today and I'm not really looking forward to it!

SteamLouis
Post 3

@ankara-- Yea and if someone has an inclination for swollen tonsils, they would have probably experienced it as a child. And doctors would have done something about it then.

If someone is getting swollen tonsils as an adult, there must be something going on. I get swollen tonsils once or twice a year, usually in winter time or when I'm stressed. So basically when my immune system is weaker.

I don't get it otherwise and I never had it as a child.

bluedolphin
Post 2

I think tonsillitis in adults usually has to do with a throat infection like strep throat. So that's why it's not very common in my opinion.

fBoyle
Post 1

Chronic tonsillitis in adults is not as common as tonsillitis in children, but it's still more common than we realize.

My girlfriend had to have her tonsils removed as an adult and I know a couple of other people who have done the same. My girlfriend has actually been suffering from tonsillitis since she was a child but never got them removed at that time. It was a very late surgery for her and it was very painful.

Having tonsils removed as an adult is not fun but lots of people have to do it because of recurring infections.

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