What is a Lingual Tonsil?

Misty Wiser

The lingual tonsil is a small mound of lymph tissue located at the back of the base of the tongue. There are two lingual tonsils in the mouth, one on each side of the tongue. They are composed of lymphatic tissue that functions to assist the immune system in the production of antibodies in response to invading bacteria or viruses. If the tonsils are repeatedly swollen or infected over an extended period of time, they may need to be removed.

A medical professional examining the tonsils.
A medical professional examining the tonsils.

An infection of the lingual tonsils causes many uncomfortable symptoms, including a sore throat and very painful swallowing. Swollen tonsils are often easily visible on the back of both sides of the tongue, a condition called tonsillitis. A fever may develop as the immune system tries to fight off the infection.

Lingual tonsils are on each side of the tongue.
Lingual tonsils are on each side of the tongue.

A medical professional can visibly examine the tonsils to see if a bacterial culture should be made from a throat swab. Preliminary antibiotics may be prescribed until the results of the culture have returned from the laboratory. If no bacteria are revealed in the cultures, the antibiotics will be discontinued.

Gargling a solution of salt water may relieve throat pain from an infected lingual tonsil.
Gargling a solution of salt water may relieve throat pain from an infected lingual tonsil.

If the infection is caused by a virus, the healthcare professional may be able to prescribe medication to relieve the painful sore throat and other uncomfortable symptoms. A solution of salt and water can be gargled to relieve some of the sore throat pain. The salt water also acts as an antiseptic rinse for the tonsil.

A sore throat can be a symptom of a lingual tonsil infection.
A sore throat can be a symptom of a lingual tonsil infection.

In extreme cases, the inflamed lingual tonsil may grow large enough to block the airway, which can make breathing and speaking very difficult. Some people develop obstructive sleep apnea as the tonsils enlarge. A surgical procedure called coblation lingual tonsillectomy is used to remove the inflamed tonsils and restore the airway.

During the tonsillectomy, the patient will be put to sleep with general anesthesia. The surgeon will remove the lingual tissue and seal the excision area. After the procedure, antibiotics and painkillers will be prescribed for up to ten days. A diet of soft and cold foods is recommended for at least the first three days after surgery.

Occasionally, a person may develop cancer in the lingual tonsils. A lymphoma can cause a large mass of tissue to grow from the tongue into the throat. The most common cancer in this tissue is a squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), which may manifest as a cluster of ulcers in the back of the throat. Treatment may include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

An infection of the lingual tonsils may cause painful swallowing.
An infection of the lingual tonsils may cause painful swallowing.

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