Tonsils, part of the human body's lymphatic system, assist in with the immune response. Found in the back of the throat, these glands may enlarge, leading to snoring and sleep apnea, recurring sore throats, bad breath and difficulty swallowing. Treatment options exist, from tonsil removal to avoiding irritants to antibiotics. Swollen tonsils may be caused by a number of medical conditions, including gastroesophageal reflux disease, smoking and tonsillitis.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
A study presented at the 2007 American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery Foundation Annual Meeting reveals a connection between gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD, and enlarged tonsils 3. According to MayoClinic.com, GERD occurs when stomach acid and bile flows from the stomach back into the esophagus, which irritates the lining of the esophagus.
Tonsils and Weight Loss
Reaction to allergens and irritants, including cigarette smoke, may cause the tonsils to swell. A tonsillectomy and radiation may be recommended for smaller tumors; neck dissection and jaw bone resection combined with radiation may be needed for larger tonsils.
Tonsillitis, an infection of the tonsils, usually occurs as a result of viral and bacterial infections, according to MayoClinic.com 1. The most common cause is Streptococcus pyogenes, the bacteria responsible for strep throat. Aside from red, swollen tonsils, symptoms of tonsillitis include:
- sore throat
- white or yellow patches visible on the tonsils
- painful swallowing
- enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
- stiff neck
- bad breath
Physicians prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection; however, recurring and chronic tonsillitis may require surgery to remove the tonsils permanently.
Tonsils and Weight Loss
Excessively Coughing? Here's Why
Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma Cough Symptoms
Early Signs and Symptoms of Throat Cancer
Side Effects of Tonsillitis
Common Causes of Front Neck Pain
Smoking & Shortness of Breath
What Are the Causes of an Infection of the Tonsils?
Diseases and Disorders of the Tongue
Nose Cancer Signs
- Chennaionline.com: Tonsils
- The Mayo Clinic: Tonsilitis
- Newswise.com: Enlarged Tonsils Associated with Reflux Disease
- The Mayo Clinic: GERD
- Ear, Nose and Throat Center of South Denver, Littleton & Highlands Ranch: Tonsil Cancer
- National Institute of Health. Understanding recurrent tonsillitis. 2019.
- Dunmire SK, Hogquist KA, Balfour HH. Infectious Mononucleosis. Curr Top Microbiol Immunol. 2015;390(Pt 1):211-240. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-22822-8_9
- National Institute of Health. Soothing a Sore Throat. 2013.
- Castillo C, Ruffo C. An Uncommon Cause of Severe Upper Airway Obstruction in a Toddler. Glob Pediatr Health. 2017;4:2333794X17736992. doi:10.1177/2333794X17736992
- Jansen L, Vos XG, Löwenberg M. Herpes simplex induced necrotizing tonsillitis in an immunocompromised patient with ulcerative colitis. World J Clin Cases. 2016;4(2):60-62. doi:10.12998/wjcc.v4.i2.60
- American Sleep Apnea Association. Sleep Apnea Information for Clinicians.
- American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Tonsillitis. 2019.
Nicki Wolf has been writing health and human interest articles since 1986. Her work has been published at various cooking and nutrition websites. Wolf has an extensive background in medical/nutrition writing and online content development in the nonprofit arena. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Temple University.