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An illustration showing a normal tonsil and an inflamed tonsil. The inflamed tonsil is red.Your tonsils are areas of lymph tissue at the back of your mouth that help you fight infections. Tonsillitis is the medical name for when your tonsils are red and swollen (inflamed).

Most tonsillitis is caused by a virus and gets better with no treatment other than pain relief.

But some tonsillitis is caused by a bacteria called streptococcus (strep-toe-kok-us). This is known as strep throat, and your general practice team can treat it 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 tamaiti (child) have a high risk for rheumatic fever, see a health professional to check any sore throat within 1 or 2 days. If your health professional prescribes antibiotics for your sore throat, it is important to take them all for the entire 10 days. This is to stop you getting rheumatic fever, which can damage your heart.

Symptoms of tonsillitis

Causes of tonsillitis

Most tonsillitis is caused by:

Diagnosing tonsillitis

Your health professional will usually only need to hear your symptoms and look at your throat.

You may have a swab taken from your throat to check for strep throat.

If your health professional thinks you might have glandular fever, they will take a blood test.

Treating tonsillitis

Most tonsillitis gets better after 2 or 3 days and goes away completely in 7 to 10 days without any treatment. If you have strep throat you will need to take antibiotics for 10 days. It is important to finish them all to stop you getting rheumatic fever.

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

Self-care with tonsillitis

See your general practice team if you or your tamaiti:

On the next page: Tonsillectomy

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2023.


See also:

Eating and drinking when you're unwell

Page reference: 159972

Review key: HISTT-17240