Children's Hospital Colorado


What is tonsillitis?

Tonsils are lymphoid tissue located in the back of the throat. Tonsillitis is an infection that involves only the tonsils, but often the infection also involves the throat and is called pharyngitis. Pharyngitis is commonly known as a sore throat.

What causes tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis and pharyngitis may be caused by a virus. Over 90% of pharyngitis cases are caused by viral infections. Tonsillitis and pharyngitis can also be caused by a bacterial infection. Strep bacteria cause the bacterial infection commonly known as strep throat.

Who gets tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is most common among children between the ages of preschool and adolescence.

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What are the signs and symptoms of tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis symptoms in children may include:

  • Painful, scratchy, sore throat
  • Trouble or painful swallowing
  • Red, swollen tonsils
  • White or yellow coating on the tonsils
  • Drooling
  • Refusal to eat
  • Fever
  • Swollen, painful glands (lymph nodes) in the neck
  • Stiff neck
  • Bad breath
  • Stomach pain in younger children
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting

What tests are used to diagnose tonsillitis?

A throat culture will be done to check for strep throat. Your child's provider will use a cotton swab to take a sample of fluid from the back of your child's throat and tonsils.

Why choose Children's Hospital Colorado for the diagnostic test?

At Children's Colorado, our team members who do lab work are trained to work with kids – which means they have the knowledge and experience to meet your child’s developmental needs. Our providers who perform throat cultures are efficient and accurate, leading to more answers for you in less time. 

What to expect from a throat culture

If the throat culture is positive, your child's provider will let you know your child has strep throat. Your child will need a prescription for antibiotics to treat strep throat.

Negative results mean that your child does not have strep throat. This means a virus has caused your child's tonsillitis.

How is tonsillitis treated?

Your child will need to take antibiotics if the cause of your child's tonsillitis is a bacterial infection. If the cause of your child's tonsillitis a viral infection, your child does not need antibiotics.

The doctor may recommend tonsillectomy surgery to remove your child's tonsils if they get infected often. 

How can I care for my child at home?

Your child should get plenty of rest at home. They should also drink plenty of liquids. You may need to give your child soft foods if it hurts to swallow. Avoid giving your child citrus, salty or spicy foods or foods that need much chewing.

Warm liquids or cold foods, such as popsicles, may help to soothe your child's throat. Children over the age of 8 years old can gargle with salt water. Use warm water with a small amount of table salt. You can also add liquid antacid to warm water instead of salt.

Ibuprofen or acetaminophen may help to relieve your child's throat pain and decrease a fever. Ask your child's doctor how much medicine to give your child and how often. 

Why choose Children's Colorado for your child's tonsillitis or pharyngitis?

Our Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Department has pediatric experts who specialize in treating problems of the ears, nose and throat. Caring for kids is our business.

  • American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery: Tonsillitis
  • American Academy of Pediatrics: Tonsillitis

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