Tonsillitis - Symptoms 

Symptoms of tonsillitis 

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A sore throat is the main symptom of tonsillitis.

Your tonsils will be red and swollen and your throat may be very painful, making swallowing difficult.

In some cases, the tonsils are coated or have white, pus-filled spots on them.

Other common symptoms of tonsillitis include:

  • high temperature (fever) over 38C (100.4F)
  • coughing
  • headache
  • feeling sick 
  • feeling tired
  • pain in the ears
  • swollen, painful lymph glands in your neck
  • loss of voice or changes to your voice

The symptoms of tonsillitis usually get better after three to four days.

If you have tonsillitis that's caused by a viral infection, such as the common cold or flu, your symptoms may be milder.

If your tonsillitis is caused by a bacterial infection, such as a streptococcal infection, it's likely that your symptoms will be more severe. Your tonsils will be swollen, your throat will be very sore and you may have a fever. You may also have bad breath.

It's difficult to tell just by looking at a person's throat whether they have tonsillitis as a result of a virus or a bacterial infection. Tests are needed to confirm this.

Antibiotics may be recommended if test results show that your tonsillitis is caused by a bacterial infection.

Page last reviewed: 09/04/2014

Next review due: 09/04/2016


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The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Jfp83 said on 27 August 2014

I sometimes feel tonsilitis is played down. I have suffered with at least twice (most years more) a year for the last 17 years. The sore throat is the least of your trouble the fever is what disables you for days. High temperatures yet your body sweeps you from freezing to boiling with so little warning. Sweating all day all night (the minute I get it my partner now makes me sleep on a towel) Energy seeps from you and as your body does it's thing you find yourself dehydrated!!! Everytime is always 3 days out of action. By day four the antibiotics kick in however as ur appetite returns you realise your throat hurts!!! But as I say that's a mild hiccup compared to the fevers you get.

Sadly and I'm sure you asking yes I have asked to have them removed the nhs is not a fan of removing tonsils anymore and you have to get it at least 7 times in a year before they will consider. I appreciate there are risks in surgery the temperatures you reach in fever can be just as dangerous a dr on one of my recent episodes measured me at 42c. So I do think the nhs should re look at surgery particularly for repetitive issues!

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zupermaus said on 05 June 2014

I feel this somewhat downplays my experience of bacterial tonsilitis. I am unsure now if we were misdiagnosed and there was more to the infection than told.

Basically my partner fell ill while on holiday - in the 14 years Ive known him he's only been sick once, and only ever bruised once. But this infection is like nothing Id ever seen - it strongly reminded me of my father dying of cancer and brought me to tears. Unable to get any treatment, internet or phone where we were he 'lasted the night', then flying after on interminable waits, journeys, and having to sit up for hours to suffer terrible weakness, nausea, all over muscle pain, vomiting, confusion, headaches and 104 degree fever, sometimes dry and burning skin, most times sweating (I was worried he had meningitis as he had pulled a neck muscle while swimming earlier). The severe, unrelenting chills he had were the worst of all the symptoms he said, and at some point confided in me how he realised dying people didnt mind dying, only wanting release. While on the plane passed out on my shoulder, he broke out into a dripping cold sweat. What worried me most was when sleeping he would be unconsciously moaning in pain throughout; I had to massage throughout the night, but only for short times as any movement was unbearable as it would cause a slight draft, and anything touching him was too. On the third day (now just landed and finally home) he soiled himself in bed, tonsils were covered in lesions - within 24 hours he had sweated so much the surface of the bed frame had warped. First thing in the morning took him to emergency GP and got penicillin with the worst symptoms disappearing within hours. Crazy, I couldnt believe it was 'merely' tonsilitis, the ulcerated tonsils being the least of the symptoms.

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Hazzie46 said on 22 March 2014

My poor daughter age 5 has been suffering with a sore 'tongue' since yesterday, unable to swallow and in extreme discomfort. Went to the out of hours centre this evening as she had been crying all day and got the diagnosis of tonsillitis. Yet I had read nowhere that the taste buds on the tongue would be red and swollen, but at least now hopefully she can get better.

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Momosad said on 19 March 2014

I see the NHS is still treating this like a child's disease, constantly referring to "your child". It's this same opinion that has caused me to have tonsillitis several times a year my whole life & I'm now 32. Apparently I'd "grow out of it" so I couldn't have them removed. Well that proved false. I feel sorry for anyone is plagued their whole life with this like me, when I don't have tonsillitis my tonsils are permanently sore. I can't keep taking time off work & doctors are funny at issuing back to work notes for this illness.

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Thomas36 said on 25 February 2014

Sitting here day recovering slowly from tonsillitis, I am 46 and never felt so unwell before already lost half a stone due to not being able to eat and even drinking very uncomfortable , constant earache headache and my husband says I have started to snore as if I can't breath properly I wouldn't want anyone to catch this it is a cruel illness and I hope anyone out there that has it now get swell soon x

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