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What Causes Enlarged Tonsils?

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Updated February 28, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What Causes Enlarged Tonsils?

Surgical Removal of Enlarged Tonsils

Photo © A.D.A.M.
Question: What Causes Enlarged Tonsils?
Answer: There are three pairs of tonsils in the body: the pharyngeal tonsils (the adenoids), the lingual tonsils (behind the tongue), and the two palatine tonsils, which are located at the back of the throat. This article will talk about what causes enlarged palatine tonsils.

The tonsils are part of the lymphatic system and work with the immune system. When the tonsils become infected or overwhelmed by the very microbes that they help to fight, they can become enlarged. The following are common causes of enlarged tonsils:

Strep throat, caused by the streptococcus bacteria, can have serious complications if left untreated. For this reason, you should see a doctor whenever you have enlarged tonsils to evaluate you for strep throat.

Treatment of Enlarged Tonsils

Enlarged tonsils that are caused by a bacteria, such as streptococcus, can be treated with antibiotics. There is no medication that can cure enlarged tonsils caused by viruses, though it may be possible to reduce the swelling with steroids in severe cases. Rarely, the tonsils become so enlarged that they interfere with breathing or sleeping and have to be surgically removed.

Sources:

American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. Fact Sheet: Tonsillitis. Accessed: January 22, 2011 from http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/tonsillitis.cfm

Medline Plus. Tonsillitis. Accessed: January 22, 2011 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001043.htm

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