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HealthInfo Canterbury


Your tonsils are areas of lymph tissue at the back of your mouth that help you to fight infection. Tonsillitis is the medical name for when your tonsils are red and swollen, or inflamed.

Most tonsillitis is caused by viruses, and will get better with no treatment other than pain relief. However, some tonsillitis is caused by a bacteria called streptococcus (strep-toe-kok-us). This is known as strep throat, which your doctor can treat with antibiotics. In a few cases strep throat leads to a more serious illness called rheumatic fever.

You are at more risk of rheumatic fever if:


If you or your child are high risk for rheumatic fever, see a doctor or nurse to check any sore throat straight away – within one or two days. If your doctor prescribes antibiotics for your sore throat it's important to take them all, for the entire 10 days. This is to stop you from getting rheumatic fever.

Symptoms of tonsillitis

Causes of tonsillitis

Most tonsillitis is caused by:

Diagnosing tonsillitis

Usually your doctor will only need to hear your symptoms and look at your throat.

If you are at risk you may have a swab taken from your throat to check for strep throat.

If your doctor thinks you might have glandular fever they will take a blood test.

Treating tonsillitis

Most tonsillitis gets better after two or three days and goes away completely in seven to 10 days without any treatment. If you have strep throat you will need to take antibiotics for 10 days. It's important to finish them all to stop you getting rheumatic fever.

If you or your child get repeated bouts of tonsillitis that lead to a lot of time off work or school, you may need to have your tonsils removed in an operation called a tonsillectomy.

Self-care with tonsillitis

See your doctor if you or your child:

On the next page: Tonsillectomy

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2020.


See also:

Eating and drinking when you're unwell

Page reference: 159972

Review key: HISTT-17240