What Causes Tonsillitis?

A severe sore throat may be a sign of a tonsil infection.
A fever typically accompanies tonsillitis caused by strep throat.
A stomach ache that accompanies tonsillitis may be an indicator of mononucleosis.
Viruses or bacteria can cause tonsillitis.
A doctor may recommend tonsil removal if tonsils are infected on a regular basis.
Chronic tonsillitis can cause snoring.
Article Details
  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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Tonsillitis refers to the inflammation of the tonsils. It is usually caused by viruses or by bacterial infection. When viral infection is the cause, tonsillitis usually resolves without any treatment but rest, fluids, and pain medication as needed.

The variety caused by bacterial infection is very frequently the result of strep bacteria. Tonsillitis caused by strep, or strep throat, is usually accompanied by fever. The tonsils appear swollen and may be coated in a white infectious substance or have white spots. Sometimes strep throat can cause extreme headaches and glands under the jaw may be swollen or sore.

Strep throat must be treated with antibiotics. Lingering strep throat can progress to the very serious scarlet fever or to rheumatic fever, which can damage the heart. Strep is now often diagnosed within minutes at a doctor’s office through a rapid strep test. Those who experience the above symptoms, especially extreme sore throat accompanied by fever, should not hesitate to see a doctor, as symptoms can be rapidly resolved with antibiotics.

Certain viruses can cause inflamed tonsils, and most are relatively minor and will resolve without treatment. However, tonsillitis accompanied by ache in the stomach, slight fever, and a feeling of extreme exhaustion may indicate mononucleosis (mono). Though the primary treatment for mononucleosis is rest, some serious complications can arise from the illness. Those suspecting mono should see a doctor to rule out complications like an enlarged liver or spleen.

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Occasionally the condition is chronic and does not resolve on its own. Swallowing may become difficult with swollen tonsils. Breathing during sleep is also affected, causing snoring, premature waking and occasionally sleep apnea, the cessation of breathing for a short period of time.

Chronic tonsillitis can sometimes be the result of allergies. In other cases, the tonsils simply do not recover well from viral infections or bacterial infections and sore throats can occur frequently. Frequent sore throats, defined as more than five a year, should be investigated for the chronic version. When breathing, swallowing or sleeping is impaired by swollen or inflamed tonsils, physicians may suggest removing the tonsils.

Some recent studies have indicated that tonsillectomies, once much more common than now, may result in behavioral changes in children. One clinical study performed tonsillectomies on children diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and chronic sore throats. This study found that tonsillectomies frequently resolved symptoms of ADHD. The possible cause for this appearance of symptoms suggests that lack of sleep due to the swollen tonsils may impact behavior and mimic ADHD symptoms.

Another recent study suggests that chronic tonsillitis may be the result of exposure to forms of the human papillomavirus virus (HPV). Approximately 30% of cases in a study conducted in Lithuania in 2004 were found to have HPV as well.

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Discuss this Article

anon320110
Post 12

I have had to deal with tonsillitis -- the strep kind -- over the years once or twice a year and had it treated with antibiotics prescribed from the doctor. Then I found out that when our body temperature is high (from the fever) the immune system shuts down and cannot fight it, so the idea is to bring the body temperature down (paracetamol every four hours) so our immune system can activate and fight.

I have done this the last few times, adding multi-vitamins, and surprisingly, after 48 hours, the fever has dropped, my tonsils are less sore and I start to get on the mend.

anon159312
Post 10

I had a number of bouts of tonsillitis as a teenager but it always went away with antibiotics. However last summer I was hospitalized with acute tonsillitis because I could not breathe or swallow and although I had taken antibiotics initially they failed to work.

If you get to the point where you can't swallow go to the ER. I waited too long and it got very serious.

anon158838
Post 9

One afternoon after my siesta i noticed that i have fever and one thing that i notice is that it is painful to swallow my saliva. Then i realized that my tonsillitis was the cause of my fever.

I did not go to a physician but i take only some medicines (I'd asked the pharmacist). So it was gone. One thing I was worried is that when my friend told me that it can cause heart problems. Is this true even if you experience it only once?

anon148548
Post 8

I had my tonsils removed as a child and it was poor job. All through my childhood years I suffered asthma and bronchitis. As an adult, I had a severely painful throat and went to the doc. It was tonsillitis in the bits left over, then it dawned on me: in the four years preceding this attack, not once had I had a chest infection or asthma attack. I am a fan of the tonsils now even if I get the dreaded infection once in a while.

anon148274
Post 7

i am 19, turning 20 this year, and i have been getting tonsillitis since i was about 14. since i was 14 i have had as many as about 15 different cases. i had 8 cases in 2009 and all left me bedridden for the minimum of 5 days. my older sister used to get it as bad i as do and have been so this runs in the family.

i have seen the nurse and family GP several times with this and i have been given the antibiotics every time. i am just hoping that maybe one day something can be done to get rid of my tonsil and at least minimize the problem.

anon92746
Post 4

I used to get tonsillitis all the time as a child. My pediatrician believed that the tonsils are the first defense and he said that in many cases children who had their tonsils removed were later plagued with infections lower in their respiratory systems (like bronchitis). So I still have my tonsils, and I have never had bronchitis or any major upper respiratory infection.

I get tonsillitis now once every two years or so and I am generally treated with antibiotics (I usually wait until I can't swallow before I seek treatment because I am stubborn) and then I am fine. By the way, my daughter just had scarlet fever and it showed up the same day she started complaining of a sore throat.

anon84411
Post 3

My adult son has been suffering from the occasional extreme stomach ache. When this happens he cannot walk it is so bad and he considers driving himself to emergency.

So far, the pain passes and then he is left for weeks wondering when and why it recurs. He is very fit and eats well.

When his father was young he suffered from severe stomach aches and was taken to a number of doctors. One of the doctors finally traced it to his tonsils which were removed and the stomach aches stopped. He did not suffer from strep throat so I am not sure how this led to such a solution.

My son has had strep throat but not for a number of years. Does anyone out there know anything about this theory and or what the stomach aches could be caused by?

anon24309
Post 2

The article on tonsillitis states a Strep throat must be treated with antibiotics. In the UK and most European countries throat infections including Strep throats are not treated with antibiotics as they settle without antibiotics. Scarlet fever and Rheumatic fever are also very rare nowadays!

mentirosa
Post 1

I am happy to report that tonsils are not as routinely removed as they used to be in the past. So usually children for whom tonsils continue to create problems, who get strep infection more then six times a year, for them tonsillectomy might be beneficial. But on the average, an occasional strep infection should not be the cause for removal of tonsils.

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