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Tonsillitis fact sheet

Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils which are the two pads of glandular tissue on each side of the back of the throat. The condition may be caused by a virus or bacterial infection.

The tonsils help defend the body against infections which may enter through the nose or mouth. Tonsillitis is very common and can occur at any age. Most cases of tonsillitis disappear within a few days.

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of tonsillitis may include:

  • sore throat and neck
  • pain when swallowing
  • fever
  • earache
  • bad breath
  • headache
  • loss of appetite and feeling generally unwell
  • red and swollen tonsils (with pus)
  • swollen and tender glands at either side of the neck
  • change in the sound of your child’s voice (such as sounding hoarse or muffled).

Children may also complain of tummy pain without having a sore throat and they may vomit.

Tonsillitis can also lead to other infections in your child’s nose, sinuses and ears. These can include glue ear (otitis media) where the tube between the throat and middle ear becomes blocked and affects hearing.

How is the condition diagnosed?

Tonsillitis is usually diagnosed with a short physical examination and visual inspection of the tonsils.

Your doctor may also do a throat swab if they believe a bacterial (Streptococcus) infection is causing the tonsillitis. This will involve rubbing sterile cotton wool on a stick over the tonsil and sending it to be tested.

What is the treatment?

Viral

Tonsillitis is most commonly caused by a virus and antibiotics will not help treat the condition. Instead, treatment will focus on relieving the associated pain and fever with paracetamol, rest and cool drinks and foods that are easy to swallow.

Bacterial

Antibiotics will be prescribed if the tonsillitis is caused by a bacterial infection.

Tonsillectomy

A tonsillectomy involves the surgical removal of the tonsils from the back of the throat. The operation is conducted under general anaesthetic and your child will need to stay in hospital overnight for observation after the surgery.

Contact us

Paediatric Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery Department
Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital
Level 3, 501 Stanley Street, South Brisbane
t: 07 3068 1111 (general enquiries)

In an emergency, always call 000.

If it’s not an emergency but you have any concerns, contact 13 Health (13 43 2584). Qualified staff will give you advice on who to talk to and how quickly you should do it. You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Resource No: FS164. Developed by Paediatric Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery (Ear, Nose and Throat) Department. Updated: December 2016. All information contained in this sheet has been supplied by qualified professionals as a guideline for care only. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.

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