What is it?

Tonsillitis is a swelling of the tonsils, which are areas of lymphoid tissue on either side of the throat. Tonsils can become swollen when they are infected by bacteria or a virus. This is a common occurrence in children.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of tonsillitis may include:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • White patches in the throat or tonsils
  • Red, swollen tonsils
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Vomiting
  • Sore glands in the throat or jaw

Most of the time, tonsillitis can be treated with rest, warm liquids, and acetomeniphen for pain. If the cause of the tonsillitis is bacteria, your physician may prescribe antibiotics.

Some symptoms are more serious and may prompt your physician to request an evaluation by a surgeon, including:

  • Tonsils so swollen that your child snores, has trouble speaking, or has trouble breathing
  • Tonsillitis that is severe and recurrent. This may occur in the form of frequent, low-grade sore throats or a sore throat that never goes away.
  • Tonsils that take an unusual shape or tonsils that are unusually large
  • The presence of an abscess (a collection of pus) in or around the tonsils

How is it treated?

Usually, tonsillitis goes away without the need for surgery but in some cases a tonsillectomy (PDF) may be recommended. Sometimes, an adenoidectomy (removal of the adenoids) will be performed at the same time. The adenoids, which are masses of lymphoid tissue just above and behind the uvula, often swell during bouts of tonsillitis and can interfere with breathing. While all surgery has risks, research shows that children without tonsils do not seem to suffer problems from not having them anymore.

About surgery for tonsillitis at Children's

Tonsillectomy is one of the most common surgeries performed at Children's. The ENT surgery teams at Children's provide next-generation care to neonatal infants, newborns, children, and adolescents with tonsillitis from throughout the Upper Midwest. These teams provide some of the most cutting-edge treatments available, including newborn surgery and minimally invasive surgery, when appropriate. Tonsillectomies are performed at Children's - Minneapolis, Children's - St. Paul, and Children's West.

If you are a family member looking for a Children's ENT surgeon, visit Find a Doctor.

If you are a health professional looking for a consultation or referral information, please call Children's Physician Referral at 1-866-755-2121 (toll-free).

Return to Children's ENT surgery home page.