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Tonsillitis Overview

Tonsillitis is an inflammation of the glands of the throat, which are called the tonsils. The tonsils are a pair of soft tissue masses located at the rear of mouth on each side of the throat. The tonsils are different than the uvula. The uvula is the conic projection of tissue that hangs down from the roof of the mouth. Inflammation of the tonsils results in a sore throat. Tonsillitis can be caused by either viruses or bacteria. Most cases of tonsillitis resolve in a few days without antibiotic medication.

Tonsillitis Causes

Whether viral or bacterial, tonsillitis is transmitted most commonly from one person to another by social contact such as droplets in the air from sneezing. Most of the time, tonsillitis is caused by a viral infection. Tonsillitis caused by strep throat is uncommon in both children and adults.

Bacterial tonsillitis can be caused by Streptococcus pyogenes,the organism that causes strep throat. If left untreated, strep throat may lead to a more serious condition called rheumatic fever, which can affect the heart several years later.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/14/2014
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Tonsillectomy: When is it Necessary?

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

Many older adults today have had a tonsillectomy (surgical removal of the tonsils at the back of the throat). The frequency of tonsillectomy procedures peaked in popularity from the late 1950s through the 1970s as a treatment for children with frequent or recurring sore throats. Since the heyday of tonsillectomy in the 70s, the tonsillectomy rate has declined by about 75%, from about 1 million per year to just around 250,000. The reason for this decline is a growing skepticism on the part of both doctors and parents that the procedure has benefit for most people in helping control infections. Even a major research study in 2004 showed that many, if not most, tonsillectomies, might not be needed at all.

The operation itself is a fairly simple procedure with relatively few risks of serious consequences. Still, infection, bleeding, and complications from the anesthetic drugs are a potential risk of any surgical operation. Most children who have a tonsillectomy will need to miss at least a week of school, and there is usually some degree of discomfort in the days following the procedure.

While doctors may still debate the necessity for tonsillectomy and its effectiveness as a treatment, there are certain circumstances for which the tonsillectomy is definitely recommended, including:...

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Tonsillitis and Peritonsillar Abscess »

In the first century AD, Celsus described tonsillectomy performed with sharp tools and followed by rinses with vinegar and other medicinals.

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