ZocdocAnswersHow can one's tonsils become infected?

Question

How can one's tonsils become infected?

When I woke up this morning, my tonsil was really swollen. It was hanging down onto the back of my tongue. I'm kind of frightened. Does this mean that I'm sick? What can I do to treat an inflamed tonsil? I have to believe that it's some kind of infection or something.

Answer

Sudden changes in one's health are best addressed by a primary care physician. If a swollen tonsil starts causing any difficulty breathing you should seek care at an emergency department immediately. Otherwise, your primary care doctor can perform a physical exam and help determine if any further action is needed. The tonsils are a part of the immune system and are a place where immune cells from throughout the body will gather. Because they are exposed not only to all ingested food but also to particles breathed in through the air or drainage from the nose, there are many different things that can cause them to become irritated or inflamed. Tonsils can become infected, an condition know as tonsillitis. Strep throat is a very common condition, especially in childhood, that can make the tonsils appear large and swollen. It is also possible to develop an abscess within or behind one of the tonsils. Finally, it is also possible for food particles or mucous draining from the nose to become trapped in the cavities or crypts of the tonsils. Over time this material can begin to calcify, forming what is often referred to as a tonsil stone. If they become trapped inside the tonsil, these tonsil stones can also cause enlargement or irritation of the tonsil. Many conditions involving the tonsils, including infections, will also have other associated symptoms such as fever or sore throat. A physician may also be able to see pus or other changes by further examining the tonsil. For this reason, it is best to see a physician with this kind of complaint.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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