Tonsillitis is a common condition. Learn more about its symptoms and how to treat it.

What Is Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils. It is most commonly caused by viruses, but bacteria can also lead to tonsillar infection. The most common bacterial infection is caused by streptococcus and is commonly referred to as strep throat.1

Tonsillitis causes the tonsils to become inflamed, which can sometimes be very painful. Other symptoms of tonsillitis can include fever, sore throat, foul breath, yellow discharge from the tonsils, and tender lymph nodes on both sides of the neck.1

There are multiple types of tonsillitis – each type can be identified by symptoms the infection is causing, the most telling symptom is how long the tonsillitis infection lasts. The next section explains the various types of tonsillitis and symptoms.1

Tonsillitis Types and Symptoms

Acute tonsillitis is a one-time episode of tonsillitis in which a patient’s symptoms may include fever, sore throat, bad breath, difficult or painful swallowing, and tender lymph nodes. These symptoms usually pass within three to four days, but may last up to two weeks despite taking medicines prescribed by a doctor or implementing any at-home remedies.1

Recurrent tonsillitis is diagnosed when a patient experiences multiple cases of acute tonsillitis within a year.1

Chronic tonsillitis is a condition in which individuals experience persistent tonsillitis symptoms such as sore throat, bad breath, consistently sore lymph nodes. This is when the tonsillar infection simply will not resolve, regardless of what treatment(s) have been applied.1

Peritonsillar abscess is the most intense form of tonsillitis. Individuals suffering from peritonsillar abscess often have severe throat pain, fever, uncontrollable drooling, bad breath, and lockjaw.1 The infection usually spreads to the area behind the tonsil, and down into the neck and chest. These tissues become swollen due to infection and can block the airway. At this point, peritonsillar abscess becomes a life-threatening medical emergency.2

It’s also possible for the abscess to rupture into the throat. The content of the abscess can travel into the lungs and cause pneumonia.2

If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, it is in your best interest to seek medical attention from your doctor. If you need help finding a doctor near you, please enter your zip code into our Surgeon Locator at the top of the page.

Who Gets Tonsillitis?

Although tonsillitis most often occurs in children, anyone can be subject to this infection.1 Some people are more susceptible to recurrent bouts of tonsillitis than others. Tonsillitis can be prevalent in people who spend a lot of time in high-density locations where humans come into close contact with one another, such as schools or daycares.3

How Is Tonsillitis Treated?

Tonsillitis caused by bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics such as penicillin. Viral tonsillitis will not respond to antibiotics; therefore, doctors will often treat the infection’s symptoms with over-the-counter pain relievers and home remedies.3

For those patients who have consistent, repeated bouts of tonsillitis (recurrent or chronic tonsillitis), doctors may consider surgical removal of the tonsils as a treatment.1 This is known as a tonsillectomy.


  1. American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.Tonsillitis: Patient Health Information. Updated January 11, 2015. Accessed November 17, 2015
  2. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Peritonsillar abscess. Published August 27, 2012. Updated December 2, 2015. Accessed December 7, 2015.
  3. American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. Soar Throats: Patient Health Information. Accessed May 1, 2017.