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Your tonsils are designed to protect you against infection. When they become infected, they're able to contain the infection so it doesn't spread elsewhere. The uncomfortable swelling this causes is the condition we know as tonsillitis.

It's particularly common in children, but it can affect adults too.

The main symptom of tonsillitis is an uncomfortable sore throat. However, you should also let our GPs know if you've noticed any of the following symptoms:

During your consultation, our doctors can also check for visual signs of tonsillitis, such as redness, or tonsils covered in a coating of small, white spots.

As with many viruses, the usual treatment for tonsillitis is to get plenty of rest and keep yourself hydrated. This can be difficult if it’s painful for you to swallow, but it's important.

Medication is also an option, but as tonsillitis regularly affects young people, it’s important to note that no one under the age of 16 should be given aspirin. If your tonsillitis is caused by bacteria and your symptoms are severe, our doctors can prescribe antibiotics.

In rare cases, a doctor will recommend you get your tonsils taken out. Guidelines indicate that this is only an option if you have suffered:

  • At least seven bouts of tonsillitis within the past 12 months
  • At least five bouts of tonsillitis each year for the past two years
  • At least three bouts of tonsillitis each year for the past three years

If any of these apply to you, a doctor can talk you through the various surgery options available.

Tonsillitis is normally caused by viruses. This explains why you might get flu-like symptoms, as flu is one of the viruses that can contribute to the condition.

While tonsillitis itself isn't contagious, the viruses that cause it are. They can be passed on through coughs and sneezes (direct contact) or through touching a surface that someone with a virus has also been in contact with (indirect contact).

In some cases, tonsillitis is caused by the streptococcus bacteria. One of the ways you can tell if your tonsillitis is bacterial is by checking your breath. The bacteria that cause tonsillitis will often leave you with bad breath, while a virus will not have this effect.