The tonsils are part of the lymphatic system. When the tonsils become red, swollen, and painful this is called tonsillitis. Many different germs can cause inflammation of the tonsils, and only sometimes is an infection accompanied by white patches on the surface of the tonsil.
Tonsillitis can be caused by a virus or bacteria. The most common bacteria to cause tonsillitis is streptococcus, or strep throat. Strep throat must be treated with antibiotics. Rarely, untreated strep throat can lead to kidney or heart damage, especially in children. The most common symptom of strep throat is pain in the back of the throat that is usually unaccompanied by other cold symptoms such as a runny nose or sneezing.
Strep throat is diagnosed by swabbing the back of the throat and then identifying the bacteria or virus responsible for tonsillitis. If you do not have strep throat, a virus is most likely causing your symptoms. Your body will need a lot of fluid, rest and time to fight off the virus. Most viral infections start to go away after about two weeks.
Normally, Tonsillitis Goes Away on Its Own
Tonsillitis is very common and there are many causes. Most of the time, it goes away on its own. But, if you have a sore throat that doesn't seem to be getting better, see your doctor.
Tonsillectomy for Chronically Tonsillitis
When the tonsils become inflamed for long periods of time, they may have to be surgically removed via a tonsillectomy. Though tonsillitis used to be treated with tonsillectomy very frequently, this is no longer the practice and these days it is only done in specific instances. Tonsil removal is necessary in cases of extreme obstruction of the airways or swallowing due to inflamed tonsils. Other reasons for tonsillectomy include: recurrent acute throat infections, chronic tonsillitis that does not improve with antibiotics, obstruction leading to bad breath or changes in voice.
About.com. Cold and Flu. Accessed: February 3, 2009 from http://coldflu.about.com/od/othercommonillnesses/p/tonsillitis.htm
Medline Plus. Tonsils and Adenoids. Accessed: February 3, 2009 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/tonsilsandadenoids.html