Causes of acute tonsillitis

The tonsils are described as lymph nodes positioned in the rear of the mouth and throat. The main function of the tonsils is to filter out bacteria and prevent infection in the body. Tonsils that cannot fight bacteria or virus can end up swollen and inflamed which is a condition called as acute tonsillitis. Any individual can develop acute tonsillitis but quite common among children.

Possible causes

In most cases, viruses are responsible for causing most cases of acute tonsillitis. Viruses such as herpes simplex virus, adenovirus, cytomegalovirus, measles virus and Epstein-Barr virus cause most cases of acute tonsillitis.

Bacteria are less likely to trigger tonsillitis but some cases are caused by Streptococcus pyogenes. Oftentimes, a throat swab culture is performed in order to determine the actual cause of acute tonsillitis.


The usual signs and symptoms of acute tonsillitis include sore throat, swollen tonsils, moderate to high fever, painful swallowing and enlarged lymph nodes.

What are the signs and symptoms?

The usual signs and symptoms of acute tonsillitis include sore throat, swollen tonsils, moderate to high fever, painful swallowing and enlarged lymph nodes. In some cases, tonsillitis can trigger weakness and fatigue. Severe cases of tonsillitis require immediate medical care and symptoms include extreme difficulty in swallowing and difficulty breathing. Aside from these symptoms, the doctor might also check if the tonsils are coated or has white-colored spots.

If any of these signs and symptoms is present, it simply indicates that the individual has acute tonsillitis. Depending on the cause, a doctor should be consulted if the condition persists or becomes worse.


If acute tonsillitis is caused by bacteria, it is managed with antibiotics. As for cases caused by viruses, the management involves active self-care which includes rest, gargling using salt water, increasing the fluid intake, over-the-counter pain medications and throat lozenges. In rare circumstances, acute tonsillitis does not respond to treatment or becomes a recurrent condition. In such cases, the tonsils might be removed surgically which is a called tonsillectomy.

Diagnosis and prevention

Acute tonsillitis typically improves within 2-3 days once treatment is started. Antibiotics are usually prescribed in treating tonsillitis caused by bacteria and the full course should be completed even if the symptoms have subsided. Children who have symptoms of acute tonsillitis must stay at home until all the symptoms cleared up. This will help reduce the spread of the disease to others.

The key in preventing tonsillitis is observing proper hygiene at all times. Just like any virus or bacteria, acute tonsillitis is considered highly contagious. Regular hand washing and avoiding the sharing of beverages and food can reduce the chances of acquiring the disease.

What are the possible complications?

Even though rare, the possibility of complications from acute tonsillitis exists. The potential complications linked with this type of condition include dehydration, blocked airway, kidney failure, throat abscess and even rheumatic fever. Remember that these complications require immediate medical care. A doctor should be consulted if the symptoms of acute tonsillitis becomes worse or persists longer than 48 hours.


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