Diseases of the Tonsils

The tonsils are soft tissues that reside at the back of the throat to help fight infection. Sometimes the tonsils can grow really large and need to be removed. In some cases, the tonsils may become infected, and white pus starts to form on them. Trouble swallowing and a sore throat are common symptoms of tonsillar problems. Certain diseases display these symptoms.


Tonsillitis refers to a viral or bacterial inflammation of the tonsils. The Mayo Clinic says that symptoms of tonsillitis include red, swollen tonsils; trouble swallowing; white patches on the tonsils; fever; and chills. Tonsillitis can also cause a sore throat, painful swallowing, voice loss, a headache and enlarged lymph nodes.

The Mayo Clinic says that the tonsils actually serve as a filter for bacteria. Sometimes certain bacteria, such as group A Streptoccocci, can infiltrate the tonsils and cause tonsillitis. However, viruses such as the Epstein Barr virus typically cause tonsillitis.

Being a child and having close contacts with viral or bacterial-laden persons increase the risk for developing tonsillitis, says the Mayo Clinic.

Viral tonsillitis typically requires no antibiotic treatment. Rather, gargling with salt water, drinking warm liquids such as broth or tea and taking over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can treat viral tonsillitis, says the Mayo Clinic.

Bacterial tonsillitis is treated with oral penicillin for about ten days. Sometimes surgical removal of the tonsils is needed when a person has seven or more throat infections per year; five or more throat infections per two years; or three or more throat infections for a three-year time period, says the Mayo Clinic.

Peritonsillar Abscess

If left untreated, tonsillitis leads to a peritonsillar abscess. MedlinePlus says that a peritonsillar abscess is an accumulation of pus around the tonsils. One or both tonsils can be affected. In some causes, the tonsils can rupture and leak pus, which invades the palate, chest and lungs.

Specific peritonsillar abscess symptoms include drooling, trouble opening the mouth, a sore throat, hoarseness, chills, a fever and tender glands surrounding the jaw and throat, says MedlinePlus. A peritonsillar abscess can also cause facial swelling.

Treatment for a peritonsillar abscess involves antibiotic medications and pain medications. Sometimes surgeons may decide to drain the abscess, and the tonsils may be removed. Airway obstruction, a skin infection of the chest, jaw or neck (cellulitis), a heart infection (endocarditis), fluid accumulation around the lungs (pleural effusion) or pneumonia can result if a peritonsillar abscess if left untreated.

Tonsillar Cancer

The Merck Manual says that tonsillar cancer is typically found in men who drink and smoke. It also states that cancer of the tonsils typically affects people who are between the ages of 50 and 70 years.

Symptoms of tonsillar cancer include a sore throat that can move to the ear. In some cases, a neck lump may be felt and seen. The lump's cells may spread to the lymph nodes and then spread to the rest of the body. Radiation, chemotherapy and surgery are the treatment options for tonsillar cancer. The Merck Manual says that about 50 percent of people survive for at least five years after diagnosis.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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