What Causes Tonsillitis?

by | Sep 25, 2023 | Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is a condition that affects the tonsils hanging in the back of the throat. These ball-shaped appendages are a critical part of the lymphatic system and help filter bacteria and other pathogens from the blood to support proper immune system function. When infected, the tonsils become irritated, inflamed, and swollen. Symptoms are usually mild and tend to resolve within one week. To help you better understand the importance of why medical intervention is sometimes advised instead of the usual wait-and-see self-care approach, C/V ENT Surgical Group offers this brief overview on the causes of tonsillitis.

How Common and Serious Is Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is so common that millions of people develop it every year, with the average person experiencing it at least once during their lifetime. In most cases, the symptoms are so mild that those with tonsillitis assume their symptoms are caused by the cold, flu, or some other respiratory ailment. Severe infections are also quite common and tend to present more serious and longer-lasting symptoms and complications.

Causes of Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis Causes - C/V ENT Surgical GroupViruses account for the majority of tonsillitis cases seen in the country. Viral infections are transmitted through droplets and can become airborne and more transmissible in certain environments. Viral tonsillitis is extremely contagious and can enter the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. Currently, the Epstein-Barr virus, also known as mononucleosis, is the dominant cause of viral tonsillitis.

Tonsil infections can also occur from bacteria, fungi, and parasitic infections, though they are less common, such as strep throat or meningitis. Tonsillitis infections can spread to other parts of the throat and cause other conditions, such as pharyngitis.

The most common modes of transmission include:

  • Sharing food, beverages, or utensils
  • Kissing someone who is sick
  • Inhalation of infectious cold, flu, and other pathogen particles in high-risk environments
  • Close contact with a sick person or contaminated surfaces
  • Proximity to sneezing or coughing sick person

Serious and chronic cases of tonsillitis and adenoid infections can lead to poor sleep quality, decreased cognitive performance, shortness of breath, sleep apnea, and other concerns that greatly impact one’s overall ability to function daily. Though it is not specific to any age group, children over the age of three and seniors are more prone to this type of infection due to developing and waning immune system function respectively.

Symptoms of Tonsillitis

For some people, especially those with underlying inflammatory health conditions or severe cold, sinus, flu, and other upper respiratory infections, tonsillitis can recur or become chronic. Symptoms of inflammation or infection of the tonsils include:

  • Unusual voice changes
  • Swelling or abscesses on tonsils
  • Sore throat
  • Ear pain
  • Painful or trouble swallowing
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Halitosis or bad breath
  • Red, white, or yellow spots on tonsils
  • Fatigue
  • Malaise

These symptoms can occur suddenly or develop gradually over time, making it easier to overlook or misdiagnose without proper medical attention. It is important to seek out medical care for suspected tonsillitis to prevent prolonged malaise, sinus infections, sleep apnea, and airway obstructions and infections of nearby tissues, such as the adenoids and ears. Everyone experiences symptoms differently and, in some cases, may only develop one or two symptoms or remain asymptomatic.

Testing and Treatment

Knowing the difference between the cold, flu, sinus, and other common upper respiratory infections is key to overcoming tonsillitis. The main symptoms are throat soreness and redness. The tonsils may appear larger or feel heavier than usual. They may also have spots or abscesses that are filled with or ooze pus.

Tonsilitis Symptoms - C/V ENT Surgical Group

Because tonsil infections can occur from viruses, bacteria, and other germs and pathogens, it is recommended to get a strep test at the first sign of fever, throat soreness, or swollen lymph nodes that is not accompanied by a runny nose, cough, or cold symptoms.

Diagnosing Tonsil Infections

Tonsillitis infections are diagnosed via visual inspection, blood work, and throat swap culture. These tests are critical to determining the cause or type of tonsillitis. For example, a visual inspection can confirm the presence or absence of abscesses or abnormal tonsil color that are hallmark signs of tonsillitis, and throat cultures can confirm the presence of bacteria or viral-induced tonsil infections. Blood work may also be performed to rule out other concerns and is often done for patients who suffer from repeat tonsil infections.

Viral tonsil infections tend to clear up on their own. Aside from self-care adjustments that often include Warm beverages, increased hydration, over-the-counter pain relievers and lozenges, and lots of rest, most patients make a full recovery without medical intervention. It is advised to avoid caffeinated and carbonated and cold and hot beverages to prevent additional distress and irritation to the infected tonsil and throat tissues.

Bacterial tonsillitis, including strep throat that gets progressively worse, requires medical intervention to reduce the risk of spreading and complications. Though the tonsils are an important component of the lymphatic system, many people find it more beneficial to their health and overall quality of life to have them removed.

Children and some immunocompromised adults often experience more frequent tonsil infections and should avoid using aspirin and certain store-bought medications without medical guidance. The standard treatment for mild tonsillitis is antibiotic therapy. However, more intensive treatment protocols, including surgery are necessary to treat acute, chronic, and recurrent tonsillitis infections.

Get Tested and Treated for Tonsillitis Today

If you experience throat soreness or redness or suspect your tonsils, adenoids, or even sinuses are infected, don’ hesitate to contact the specialists at C/V ENT Surgical Group. We offer safe, affordable, and comprehensive treatment for pediatric and adult tonsillitis, adenoids, and other common ear, nose, and throat disorders. Call 818-431-2769 to schedule a medical evaluation and learn surgical and nonsurgical treatment options that can restore your health and overall quality of life.