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Swollen tonsils are a common sign of tonsillitis, which is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Tonsillitis causes swollen (inflamed) tonsils. The tonsils are two small glands at the back of your throat.
A little over half of all tonsillitis cases are caused by viral infections. The rest are caused by bacterial infections.1,2
The same viruses that cause the common cold can cause tonsillitis. Most cases of bacterial tonsillitis are due to strep throat.1,2
Throat cancer can also cause swelling of the tonsils. However, throat cancer usually only involves one tonsil.4
Tonsillitis can have other symptoms beyond tonsil swelling. Common tonsillitis symptoms include:
Tonsillitis can sometimes be associated with tonsil stones, which are small, calcified deposits on the surface of the tonsils.5
You should see a doctor if you have swollen tonsils and a sore throat for over a day or two.
Other signs you should see a doctor include:
Call your doctor if only one tonsil is swollen. This may be a sign of throat cancer.
You can see your dentist if you think you have tonsillitis. However, your primary care physician is probably the best healthcare professional to call.
Bacterial tonsillitis caused by streptococcus A (strep throat) can lead to serious complications if left untreated. For this reason, antibiotics are often prescribed for bacterial tonsillitis.
Potential complications of tonsillitis include:1,7
To diagnose swollen tonsils, your doctor will examine your throat and take into account the following:2
You may be given a rapid strep test to determine whether or not you have a strep infection. This involves a throat swab, which gets tested for strep bacteria.
Once your doctor determines whether you have tonsillitis caused by a viral or bacterial infection, they’ll recommend the best treatment.
Treatment for tonsillitis is usually a combination of home remedies and professional treatments.
Home care can help relieve many common symptoms of tonsillitis. Remedies include:
Professional treatments for tonsillitis include:
While tonsillectomy can improve quality of life, it sometimes has little effect and isn’t without complications.10,11
There’s no way to ensure you’ll never get tonsillitis. But there are some steps you can take to reduce your vulnerability to tonsillitis-causing viruses and bacteria.
The following practices can help lower your chances of getting tonsillitis:
Whether viral or bacterial, tonsillitis often runs its course within about a week.3 However, bacterial tonsillitis can sometimes lead to more serious systemic illnesses.
When tonsillitis lasts longer than a week or keeps coming back, it’s called chronic tonsillitis. People with chronic tonsillitis might need surgery.
Swollen tonsils are a common symptom of tonsillitis, which viruses or bacteria can cause. Other common symptoms of tonsillitis include sore throat and swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
Bacterial tonsillitis can sometimes lead to further complications but can be treated with antibiotics. Home remedies and over-the-counter drugs can relieve pain and discomfort from tonsillitis.
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