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Cold and Flu Center

A Sore Throat & Swollen Tonsils

author image Elle Paula
Elle Paula has a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from Framingham State College and a certificate in holistic nutrition from the American College of Healthcare Sciences. She is also a licensed aesthetician with advanced training in skincare and makeup. She plans to continue on with her education, complete a master's degree program in nutrition and, ultimately, become a registered dietitian.
A Sore Throat & Swollen Tonsils
A sore throat and swollen tonsils are the result of a condition called tonsillitis. Photo Credit: Manuel Faba Ortega/iStock/Getty Images

A sore throat and swollen tonsils are the symptoms of a condition called tonsillitis. The tonsils are lymph nodes located in the back of the mouth that are responsible for trapping bacteria and other potentially harmful substances and preventing infections in the body. When these harmful substances become trapped on the tonsils, they cannot travel down into the throat. When the tonsils become plagued with bacteria and other substances, they can become swollen and inflamed.

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The most common cause of tonsillitis is the same viruses that cause the common cold, according to When tonsillitis is caused by a bacterium, it is usually Streptococcus pyogenes, which is the same bacterium that causes strep throat.


The most common symptoms of tonsillitis include a sore throat, swollen tonsils and difficulty swallowing. According to Medline Plus, the sore throat is usually severe and lasts longer than 48 hours. A white or yellowing covering may also develop on the surface of the tonsils. Other symptoms include fever, swollen lymph glands in the neck, muffled voice, bad breath, stomachache, stiff neck and headache.


Bacterial tonsillitis can be effectively treated with antibiotics. It is important to take the entire round of antibiotics even if symptoms go away during the course of treatment. There is no cure for tonsillitis caused by a virus. Home-care strategies such as bed rest, increased fluid intake, saltwater gargles and throat lozenges may help reduce the severity of symptoms and increase comfort level until the infection goes away. In those with recurrent episodes of tonsillitis, surgery to remove the tonsils may be recommended.


Medline Plus notes that the sore throat and swollen tonsils associated with tonsillitis usually go away within two to three days after the treatment begins. It is also noted that some people may require a second round of antibiotics if the first round was not successful in treating the infection. Tonsillitis is usually cured within 10 days.


Tonsillitis that is caused by streptococcus can lead to rheumatic fever or inflammation of the kidneys, called glomerulonephritis, if left untreated. Chronic tonsillitis can lead to further health problems such as sleep apnea, difficulty breathing, infection in the surrounding tissues and abscesses in the tonsils.

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