Tonsillitis: What Causes Swollen Tonsils?

What is Tonsillitis?

Swollen tonsils

Tonsillitis refers to the inflammation and irritation of the tonsils most commonly caused by viral infections. It is a very common affliction that affects people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities.


Tonsillitis is most often caused by an infection. This can be either viral or bacterial infections including:

  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Adenoviruses
  • Strep throat
  • Coronavirus
  • Rhinovirus
  • Herpes infections
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Measles virus
  • Hay fever
  • Sinusitis

Swollen tonsils


There is only one type of tonsillitis, although tonsillitis can be classified as “chronic tonsillitis” if an individual experiences at least seven instances of tonsillitis in one year.


  • Redness/Irritation of the tonsils
  • White or yellow coating on the tonsils
  • Painful blisters in the throat
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Ear pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Bad breath
  • Abdominal pain



A physical exam reveals swollen tonsils associated with tonsillitis.

Tonsillitis can usually be diagnosed through a physical exam by a primary care physician or ENT (ear, nose and throat specialist). The physician will manually examine the patient and check to see if the tonsils are inflamed. There may be additional indicators of tonsillitis, such as fever and swollen lymph nodes. The physician may take an oral swab or perform a CBC blood panel to confirm an infection causing tonsillitis.


Minor cases of tonsillitis usually clear up on their own in 7 to 10 days. A doctor will usually recommend bed rest and drinking lots of fluids to insure speedy recovery. For severe cases of tonsillitis, or in individuals who have chronic tonsillitis, a tonsillectomy is recommended. A tonsillectomy is a procedure in which the tonsils are removed under general anesthesia. This procedure is very common and straight-forward. Patients are usually out of the hospital by the following day and are fully recovered within one week.

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