Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils, two oval-shaped pads of tissue at the back of the throat — one tonsil on each side. Signs and symptoms of tonsillitis include swollen tonsils, sore throat, difficulty swallowing and tender lymph nodes on the sides of the neck.

Most cases of tonsillitis are caused by infection with a common virus, but bacterial infections also may cause tonsillitis.

Because appropriate treatment for tonsillitis depends on the cause, it's important to get a prompt and accurate diagnosis. Surgery to remove tonsils, once a common procedure to treat tonsillitis, is usually performed only when tonsillitis occurs frequently, doesn't respond to other treatments or causes serious complications.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Tonsillitis most commonly affects children between preschool ages and the mid-teenage years. Common signs and symptoms of tonsillitis include:

  • Red, swollen tonsils
  • White or yellow coating or patches on the tonsils
  • Sore throat
  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Fever
  • Enlarged, tender glands (lymph nodes) in the neck
  • A scratchy, muffled or throaty voice
  • Bad breath
  • Stomachache, particularly in younger children
  • Stiff neck
  • Headache

In young children who are unable to describe how they feel, signs of tonsillitis may include:

  • Drooling due to difficult or painful swallowing
  • Refusal to eat
  • Unusual fussiness

When to see a doctor

It's important to get an accurate diagnosis if your child has symptoms that may indicate tonsillitis.

Call your doctorif your child is experiencing:

  • A sore throat that doesn't go away within 24 hours
  • Painful or difficult swallowing
  • Extreme weakness, fatigue or fussiness

Get immediate careif your child has any of these symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Extreme difficulty swallowing
  • Drooling

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