Tonsillectomy (Removal of tonsils)
Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils. It’s usually caused by a viral infection or, less commonly, a bacterial infection.
Tonsillitis is a common condition in children, teenagers and young adults. The symptoms of tonsillitis include:
- a sore throat and pain when swallowing
- high temperature (fever) over 38C (100.4F)
The tonsils are two small glands that sit on either side of the throat. In young children, they help to fight germs and act as a barrier against infection. When the tonsils become infected, they isolate the infection and stop it spreading further into the body. As a child’s immune system develops and gets stronger, the tonsils become less important and usually shrink. In most people, the body is able to fight infection without the tonsils. Removal of the tonsils is usually only recommended if they’re causing problems, such as severe or repeated episodes of tonsillitis (see below).
What causes tonsillitis?
Most cases of tonsillitis are caused by a viral infection, such as the viruses that cause the common cold or flu virus (influenza). Some cases can also be caused by a bacterial infection, typically a strain of bacteria called group A streptococcus bacteria. These types of infections spread easily, so it’s important to try to avoid passing the infection on to others by:
- staying away from public places, such as work, school or nursery, until your GP says it’s safe to return (usually after the symptoms have passed)
- coughing and sneezing into a tissue and disposing of the tissue
- washing hands before eating, after going to the toilet and, if possible, after coughing and sneezing
There’s no specific treatment for tonsillitis, but you may be able to reduce the symptoms by:
- taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to help relieve pain
- drinking plenty of fluids
- getting plenty of rest
If test results show that your tonsillitis is caused by a bacterial infection, a short course of oral antibiotics may be prescribed.
If oral antibiotics aren’t effective at treating bacterial tonsillitis, intravenous antibiotics (given directly into a vein) may be needed in hospital.
In most cases, tonsillitis gets better within a week. However, a small number of children and adults have tonsillitis for longer, or it keeps returning. This is known as chronic tonsillitis and surgical treatment may be needed.
Surgery to remove the tonsils (a tonsillectomy) is usually only recommended if:
- you’ve had several severe episodes of tonsillitis over a long period of time
- repeated episodes are disrupting normal activities