Author: Audiopedia

Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils most commonly caused by viral or bacterial infection. Symptoms may include sore throat and fever. When caused by a bacterium belonging to the group A streptococcus, it is typically referred to as strep throat. The overwhelming majority of people recover completely, with or without medication.

In 40%, symptoms will resolve in three days, and within one week in 85% of people, regardless of whether streptococcal infection is present or not. Signs and symptoms Common signs and symptoms include: sore throat red, swollen tonsils pain when swallowing high temperature coughing headache tiredness chills a general sense of feeling unwell white pus-filled spots on the tonsils swollen lymph nodes in the neck pain in the ears or neck Less common symptoms include: nausea stomach ache vomiting furry tongue bad breath voice changes difficulty opening the mouth In cases of acute tonsillitis, the surface of the tonsil may be bright red and with visible white areas or streaks of pus. Tonsilloliths occur in up to 10% of the population frequently due to episodes of tonsillitis. Causes The most common cause is viral infection and includes adenovirus, rhinovirus, influenza, coronavirus, and respiratory syncytial virus. It can also be caused by Epstein-Barr virus, herpes simplex virus, cytomegalovirus, or HIV. The second most common cause is bacterial infection of which the predominant is Group A β-hemolytic streptococcus, which causes strep throat. Less common bacterial causes include: Staphylococcus aureus,Streptococcus pneumoniae, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Chlamydia pneumoniae, Bordetella pertussis, Fusobacterium sp., Corynebacterium diphtheriae, Treponema pallidum, and Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

Anaerobic bacteria have been implicated in tonsillitis and a possible role in the acute inflammatory process is supported by several clinical and scientific observations. Under normal circumstances, as viruses and bacteria enter the body through the nose and mouth, they are filtered in the tonsils. Within the tonsils, white blood cells of the immune system destroy the viruses or bacteria by producing inflammatory cytokines like Phospholipase A2, which also lead to fever.

The infection may also be present in the throat and surrounding areas, causing inflammation of the pharynx. Sometimes, tonsillitis is caused by an infection of spirochaeta and treponema, in this case called Vincent's angina or Plaut-Vincent angina. Diagnosis The diagnosis of GABHS tonsillitis can be confirmed by culture of samples obtained by swabbing both tonsillar surfaces and the posterior pharyngeal wall and plating them on sheep blood agar medium. The isolation rate can be increased by incubating the cultures under anaerobic conditions and using selective growth media.


A single throat culture has a sensitivity of 90%-95% for the detection of GABHS. This small percentage of false-negative results are part of the characteristics of the tests used but are also possible if the patient has received antibiotics prior to testing. Identification requires 24 to 48 hours by culture but rapid screening tests, which have a sensitivity of 85-90%, are available. Older antigen tests detect the surface Lancefield group A carbohydrate. Newer tests identify GABHS serotypes using nucleic acid probes or polymerase chain reaction. Bacterial culture may need to be performed in cases of a negative rapid streptococcal test.

True infection with GABHS, rather than colonization, is defined arbitrarily as the presence of 10 colonies of GABHS per blood agar plate. However, this method is difficult to implement because of the overlap between carriers and infected patients. An increase in antistreptolysin O streptococcal antibody titer 3–6 weeks following the acute infection can provide retrospective evidence of GABHS infection and is considered definitive proof of GABHS infection. Increased values of secreted Phospholipase A2 and altered fatty acid metabolism in patients with tonsillitis may have diagnostic utility. Treatment Treatments to reduce the discomfort from tonsillitis symptoms include: pain relief, anti-inflammatory, fever reducing medications sore throat relief, and iced/cold liquids) If the tonsillitis is caused by group A streptococcus, then antibiotics are useful with penicillin or amoxicillin being primary choices. Cephalosporins and macrolides are considered good alternatives to penicillin in the acute setting.

A macrolide such as erythromycin is used for people allergic to penicillin. Individuals who fail penicillin therapy may respond to treatment effective against beta-lactamase producing bacteria such as clindamycin or amoxicillin-clavulanate. Aerobic and anaerobic beta lactamase producing bacteria that reside in the tonsillar tissues can "shield" group A streptococcus from penicillins.

When tonsillitis is caused by a virus, the length of illness depends on which virus is involved. Usually, a complete recovery is made within one week; however, symptoms may last for up to two weeks. Chronic cases may be treated with tonsillectomy as a choice for treatment. Prognosis Since the advent of penicillin in the 1940s, a major preoccupation in the treatment of streptococcal tonsillitis has been the prevention of rheumatic fever, and its major effects on the nervous system and heart.

Recent evidence would suggest that the rheumatogenic strains of group A beta hemolytic strep have become markedly less prevalent and are now only present in small pockets such as in Salt Lake City. This brings into question the rationale for treating tonsillitis as a means of preventing rheumatic fever. Complications may rarely include dehydration and kidney failure due to difficulty swallowing, blocked airways due to inflammation, and pharyngitis due to the spread of infection. An abscess may develop lateral to the tonsil during an infection, typically several days after the onset of tonsillitis. This is termed a peritonsillar abscess.

Rarely, the infection may spread beyond the tonsil resulting in inflammation and infection of the internal jugular vein giving rise to a spreading septicaemia infection. In chronic/recurrent cases, or in acute cases where the palatine tonsils become so swollen that swallowing is impaired, a tonsillectomy can be performed to remove the tonsils. Patients whose tonsils have been removed are still protected from infection by the rest of their immune system.

In strep throat, very rarely diseases like rheumatic fever or glomerulonephritis can occur. These complications are extremely rare in developed nations but remain a significant problem in poorer nations. Tonsillitis associated with strep throat, if untreated, is hypothesized to lead to pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections.

References External links.

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