What are Enlarged Tonsils?

Enlarged tonsils (also called tonsillar hypertrophy) can be a chronic or temporary condition caused by a number of different factors including infection. Chronic hypertrophy can sometimes interfere with normal breathing, nasal sinus drainage, sleeping, swallowing and speaking. Tonsillitis is the term used to describe repeated cases of tonsillar infection.

Doctors will often ask patients if they suffer from conditions such as behavioral or performance issues. These issues may be caused by enlarged tonsils. In addition to blocking the throat, enlarged tonsils may interfere with normal breathing, nasal sinus drainage, sleeping, swallowing and speaking. In such cases, doctors may suggest removal of the enlarged tonsils.

Diagnosing Enlarged Tonsils

Children and adults should see a doctor if they’re having symptoms of infected or enlarged tonsils. The doctor will most likely look down the throat using a mirror and may also take a culture from the throat to test for strep throat or other infection. The doctor will also ask general questions about medical history, recurrent throat infections, and about diagnostic indicators of enlarged tonsils such as:

  • Majority of breathing taking place through the mouth (as opposed to the nose)
  • ‘Stuffy nose’ sound in the voice when talking
  • Runny nose, but no cold or allergy
  • Loud breathing when awake
  • Persistent snoring when asleep

Treating Enlarged Tonsils

  • If your tonsils are enlarged because of bacterial infection, the doctor may begin by prescribing an antibiotic and suggesting other remedies to help reduce discomfort until the infection goes away.
  • If your tonsils are chronically enlarged and cause persistent problems with breathing or speaking, the doctor may recommend a surgery to remove them. This surgery is called a tonsillectomy.


  1. American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Tonsils and Adenoids. 2014. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/content/tonsils-and-adenoids. Accessed August 25, 2016.