What are the Palatine Tonsils?

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  • Written By: Melanie Smeltzer
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2018
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Although there are several types of tonsils behind the mouth cavity, palatine tonsils are two of the most obvious, and can be seen on the right and left side of the throat. These tonsils are small, almond-shaped masses of lymphatic tissue that protrude from either side of the oral pharynx, and are covered in small pits. They are considered one of the body's many defense mechanisms, protecting both the respiratory and digestive tracts from infection.

Sitting between the glossopalatine and pharyngopalatine arches, the palatine tonsils are a part of the tonsillar ring. These tonsils are two of the largest and most noticeable within the tonsillar ring, and are mostly made up of small masses of lymphoid tissue, mucus membranes, veins, and nerves. They also bear small pits, which are often referred to as crypts. These crypts are actually small, epithelium-lined pockets that often collect debris such as food particles or mucus.

The main function of these tonsils is to protect the body from infection. Mature tonsillar b-lymphocytes (B-cells) produce five classes of antibodies that can help protect against things such as staphylococcus aureus and diphtheria. They also help trap bacteria, allowing the body time to create antibodies to help kill off the invading germs. In addition to being an immunity booster, tonsils also work as a team with other lymphoid tissues to help process and circulate lymph fluid.


Sometimes the amount of bacteria that enters the body overpowers the palatine tonsils, which will often lead to infection. Acute tonsillitis is one of the most common diseases that affects this organ, and is generally recognizable by the appearance of bright red, enlarged tonsils that may be covered in small yellow or white spots. It is also sometimes accompanied by a sore throat and high fever. Recurrent or chronic tonsillitis is similar in symptoms, but is categorized by the frequency and duration of these symptoms. It is generally defined as three episodes per year for three consecutive years, five episodes in two consecutive years, or four to seven episodes in a single year.

The palatine tonsils may also fall victim to atrophy and cancer. Tonsillar hypertrophy is the enlargement of tonsils without a history of tonsillitis, and can cause sleep disturbances, pain, and difficulty swallowing. Tonsil cancer is uncommon, but sometimes appears in those who have been exposed to human papilloma virus (HPV) or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).


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