Tonsils are patches of tissue found at either side of the throat which function to trap harmful viruses and bacteria as they attempt to enter the body. From time to time, the tonsils can become infected, growing enlarged as a result. The most common causes of enlarged tonsils are tonsillitis — especially strep throat — and mononucleosis. When an individual frequently experiences infected, enlarged tonsils, her doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy to prevent future illnesses.
One of the predominant causes of enlarged tonsils is tonsillitis, an umbrella term used to describe throat infections resulting from both viral and bacterial infections. In the case of a viral infection, tonsil enlargement and pain is often accompanied by cold-like symptoms such as coughing, runny nose, and sneezing. Unfortunately, time — usually five to seven days — is the only real cure for viral tonsillitis. Sufferers can, however, ease symptoms like tonsil soreness and enlargement by taking an over-the-counter painkiller, drinking lots of fluids, and gargling with a saltwater solution.
Strep throat, caused by the streptococcus bacteria, is a common form of bacterial tonsillitis. In most cases, strep throat causes very sore, enlarged tonsils that may be covered with small yellow or white bumps. Strep throat is contagious, so those who suspect they have this illness should visit a doctor. The doctor will usually perform a throat swab and, if strep throat is confirmed, prescribe antibiotics to reduce infection time. Strep-related pain can be managed with over-the-counter painkillers.
Mononucleosis — often known simply as mono — is a somewhat less prevalent cause of enlarged tonsils. Mono is an infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus and spread through certain bodily fluids, such as saliva and mucus. Along with painful, enlarged tonsils, mono patients also usually experience extreme fatigue and high fever, and in rare cases may suffer swelling of the spleen. As with viral tonsillitis, time and rest are generally the only cure for the mono virus. Sufferers may wish to ease throat and tonsil pain with lozenges, warm and cold fluids, and over-the-counter painkillers.
Some individuals experience painful, enlarged tonsils so frequently that it begins to seriously impact their attendance at school or work. In this situation, the individual’s physician may recommend a tonsillectomy, or the removal of the tonsils. Tonsillectomy is generally an outpatient procedure, but it usually requires several days of somewhat painful at-home recovery. In the long run, however, it can improve the patient’s quality of life by greatly reducing the incidence of throat-related illnesses.