What are the Most Common Causes of Sore Tonsils?

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  • Written By: Erin Oxendine
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2018
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When a person has sore tonsils, it is usually a sign that there is an infection in the body. Many different things can cause tonsils to become painful, including bacterial infections and viruses. If a person has tonsils that are red and irritated, it may be because of a cold, tonsillitis, or strep throat. Other illnesses such as upper respiratory problems and sinus issues can also cause tonsils to become inflamed.

Tonsillitis is probably the most common cause of an individual having sore tonsils. Most people who have this medical problem have a sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, and fever. A doctor will typically diagnose tonsillitis after examining the patient and ordering a throat culture. If the tonsillitis is caused by a bacterial infection, the physician most likely will prescribe antibiotics. For tonsillitis caused by a virus, however, the doctor will usually just give the person something for the fever and suggest fluids and rest.

Sinus infections can also cause a person to have sore tonsils because of sinus drainage. Sometimes, if a person has irritated sinuses, he will have nasal drip and mucus that drains into the back of the throat. As the person swallows, the mucus can get on the tonsils, causing soreness. Since there is no actual infection in the tonsils, the doctor will probably just treat the sinus infection.


Strep throat, which is a bacterial infection caused by the Streptococcus bacteria, is another reason why some people have sore tonsils. This highly contagious condition can be extremely painful and presents with symptoms such as a sore throat, swollen tonsils, and fever. The person may even have difficulty swallowing due to the enlarged tonsils. Doctors can diagnose this illness with a strep test and a physical exam. Individuals are generally given antibiotics and may be told to use an over-the-counter throat spray or lozenges to relieve pain.

Allergies can also result in sore tonsils when a person is around something that may cause him to have a reaction. People who are allergic to pet hair, pet dander, and dust will often find that they will have sore throats, irritated tonsils, and runny noses. A visit to an allergy specialist can often rule out an infection and narrow down what the person is allergic to. The specialist may recommend allergy shots or pills to help keep allergies under control.


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Post 2

@Pippinwhite -- I've had those before. Not fun. When I was a kid, I used to get tonsilitis, and it always seemed to start with my ears itching, and what felt like more drainage. I could usually tell maybe the day before the real symptoms started that something was on the horizon. If I could get started on antibiotics then, I would usually escape the worst of it, but if not, I would generally be sick for a couple of days.

I've also had irritated tonsils in the spring with the onset of the pollen appearing. My throat invariably gets sore then, too.

Post 1

If you're like me and you have tonsils as an adult, and they are rather porous, you can get tonsil stones, which can also irritate the tonsils and make them sore.

I'll get them every so often. Essentially, they're tiny crumbs of food that have lodged in one of the tonsil's pores, and the body builds up a kind of mucus barrier around them. They're kind of yucky.

I can usually tell when I have one because it feels like I'm itching, down deep in my ears. It's weird, but that's what it feels like. Then, I can look at my tonsils and see a stone, usually. When the stone comes out, the itching and soreness go away almost immediately.

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