Tonsillitis : Definition of tonsillitis

Tonsillitis : Definition

Tonsillitis definition : Tonsillitis is an inflammation of the tonsils.

The tonsils are the two oval/round areas of lymph gland tissue situated at the back on either side of your throat. They are part of the lymphatic system, and are the immune system’s first line of defence against viruses and bacteria. They act as a deterrent and will usually help prevent infection and invasions by acting like filters to trap any viruses and bacteria from entering your body via the mouth or nasal passages. They also help trigger the immune system into the production of antibodies which help prevent infections.

Tonsillitis Definition : Causes

Tonsillitis can either be caused by a viral or bacterial infection which causes the tonsils to swell and become inflamed. It is usually transmitted by another already infected individual. The infection or virus can be spread via tiny droplets of fluid which are emitted by an infected person during sneezing, coughing, kissing and even when speaking (or any other close contact).


Tonsillitis Definition : Symptoms

One of the main symptoms of tonsillitis is a sore throat and red, swollen tonsils which may have white/yellow patches on them. When you have tonsillitis you will find swallowing will be particularly painful and difficult. You may also have bad breath, enlarged/tender lymph nodes in the neck (glands), chills, fatigue, a cough, a headache, nausea, muscle aches, earache and a fever. Symptoms will usually go away within 3-6 days on their own. Tonsillitis is usually more common in children between the ages of 5-10, who may suffer from repeated bouts of it.


Tonsillitis Definition - Viral and Bacterial

Tonsillitis Definition – Viral and Bacterial Tonsillitis Differences

Bacterial tonsillitis is a bacterial infection of the throat and tonsils usually caused by Streptococcus Pyogenes (a Group A Beta-Hemolytic Streptococcus bacteria (which causes Strep Throat)). There are other species of strep bacteria that can cause tonsillitis however and these include :

  • Chlamydia pneumoniae (chlamydia)
  • Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae (gonorrhea)

It is estimated that around 10-30% of tonsillitis is caused by a bacterial infection.

If you have bacterial tonsillitis (strep throat) you will have all the standard symptoms of tonsillitis above and you are very likely to have white/yellow pus filled spots on the tonsils, a sore throat progressively worse on one side, bad breath and swollen glands; You may also have an ear infection and a fever over 100.4 °F (38 °C). Also check for an abscess on one side between your tonsil and the back of your throat as this will indicate quinsy (a peritonsillar abscess) which is a sure sign of bacterial tonsilitis.

Symptoms of bacterial tonsillitis usually start 1-3 days after you have been exposed and last 7-10 days. Bacterial tonsillitis will usually clear up on its own. If you have a severe case of bacterial tonsillitis however then treatments may include antibiotics to help fight the bacterial infection. Penicillin (and its congeners such as amoxicillin clavulaic acid, cephalosporins) and clindamycin may be given. It is important to take the antibiotics as directed as otherwise the bacteria may become resistant to the antibiotics.

Notice the appearance of a skin rash as the development of rheumatic fever and scarlet fever are complications of untreated tonsillitis – if you develop a rash go and see a doctor straight away.

Another possible treatment for severe cases of tonsillitis and quinsy may be a tonsillectomy, which is surgery to remove the tonsils. Tonsillectomies were once quite common although today they are really only performed on people who have chronic or severe cases of tonsillitis.

Viral Tonsillitis – Most cases of tonsillitis are caused by viruses and the less serious ones (such as the common cold) will generally resolve on their own. The following viruses can cause sore throats :

  • The common cold transmitted by airborne droplets and caused by a over 200 different viruses e.g. Coronavirus or Rhinovirus.
  • Influenza Virus – types A & B of the flu virus.
  • Measles Virus – spread through infected mucus and saliva which also causes a rash and fever.
  • Parainfluenza virus – a group of four viruses which cause different symptoms and illnesses. HPIV-1 causes croup which in turn can cause a sore throat.
  • Epstein-Barr virus causes mononucleosis (aka ‘mono’ or glandular fever) – an infectious disease transmitted via saliva. It is a common cause of tonsillitis and can last for weeks. Symptoms of mono include tiredness, sore throat/tonsillitis, swollen glands in the neck and armpits, fever, grey membrane covering the tonsils, a red speckled rash on the roof of your mouth at the back, a tender spleen and a headache.
  • Herpes simplex virus type 1 (is also known for causing cold sores)
  • HIV – one of the early symptoms of HIV may be a sore throat.
  • Chickenpox – an infection that causes a fever and an itchy, bumpy rash.
  • Mumps, an infection that causes swelling of the salivary glands in the neck.
  • Enterovirus – these are divided into 5 different species and may cause a variety of different diseases e.g. meningitis, polio and herpangina caused by the Coxsackie A virus.
  • Adenovirus – this can also cause conjunctivitis (aka pinkeye – an infection of the eyes).

If you have tonsillitis caused by a virus you are more likely to have a runny/stuffy nose and you may have a fever but it will be lower than bacterial tonsillitis – closer to 100.4 °F (38 °C) rather than 102°F (38.9°C). You are also more likely to have a cough and a hoarse voice with tonsillitis caused by a virus.

Viral tonsillitis will usually start improving after 3-4 days whereas bacterial tonsillitis can last much longer.

When to see a doctor – Tonsillitis Definition

It is important to see a medical professional if you have any of the following symptoms :

  • difficulty in breathing / pain when you breathe
  • difficulty in opening your mouth
  • difficulty in swallowing and talking
  • a severely sore throat that won’t subside and even gets worse
  • a stiff or painful neck
  • you have white pus filled areas on the tonsils or at the back of the throat
  • you have any swelling inside your mouth and/or throat
  • if you have blood in your phlegm or saliva
  • severe symptoms such as a high fever (101°F (38°C)
  • sore joints
  • earache
  • It is also important to see a doctor/go to the emergency room if your symptoms last longer than four days, are not improving or are getting worse

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