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Little boy at the doctor tonsillitis

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Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils, these are two small glands at the back of the throat behind the tongue. It’s a common type of infection in children although it can affect adults.

Tonsillitis symptoms include:

  • a sore throat that can feel worse when swallowing
  • coughing
  • headache
  • high temperature or fever, over 38*c (100.4*F)

The symptoms usually pass within 3 to 4 days.

When to see your doctor?

Tonsillitis is not a serious condition so only see your GP if:

  • you or your child have symptoms lasting four days or more, with no signs of improvement
  • you or your child have severe symptoms such as being unable to eat or drink because of pain or breathing difficulties


There is no specific treatment for tonsillitis but there are things that can help alleviate symptoms, such as:

A short course of antibiotics may be prescribed if tests show it is a bacterial infection. Tonsillitis usually show signs of improvement with a week. A very small amount of children and adults have recurring tonsillitis, this is known as chronic tonsillitis and may require surgery.

Surgery to remove the tonsils (tonsillectomy) is usually only carried out if you or your child has severe episodes of tonsillitis.

Sick boy lies in bed

What are tonsils for?

They are too small glands found at the back of the throat behind the tongue. It’s thought they act as a barrier against infection in children. The theory is by becoming infected they prevent further infection from spreading into the body.

What causes tonsillitis?

Most cases are caused by a viral infection. Some cases can also be caused by a bacterial infection, normally a strain of bacteria called group a Streptococcus bacteria. These infections spread easily to it’s important to avoid passing the infection on to others.

Who is affected?

Tonsillitis is very common in children aged between five and 15. The majority of children will have at least one episode of tonsillitis during their childhood. Adults can develop it too, tonsillitis in teenagers and young adults is usually the result of infection known as glandular fever.

There are roughly 50,000 tonsillectomy is carried out in England every year.



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