Lingual tonsilitis is often caused by viral or bacterial infections. In many cases, it resolves without complications within a week. Rarely, it can cause complications like trouble breathing.
Lingual tonsillitis is inflammation of the lingual tonsils found near the back of your tongue. It usually resolves with or without treatment within a week. In rare cases, it can lead to complications like airway obstruction or the formation of a pus-filled abscess.
Tonsils are masses of lymph tissue in the back of your throat that act as the first defense against germs
Lingual tonsillitis is considered a
Read on to learn more about lingual tonsilitis, including symptoms, causes, and treatment options.
Types of tonsils
- Lingual tonsils: behind the back of your tongue.
- Palatine (faucial) tonsils: on each side of the back of your throat.
- Adenoids (Nasopharyngeal tonsil): in the back of your nasal cavity.
- Tubal tonsils: near the opening of your eustachian tubes, which connect your middle ears to your throat.
If the underlying cause is an infection, you may develop symptoms like:
Tonsilitis, in general, is usually caused by bacterial or viral
Viral infections are the most common. Tonsilitis can be caused by many different types of viruses, such as:
- influenza viruses
- parainfluenza viruses
- Epstein-Barr virus
- human herpes virus 4
- coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2
Another common cause of infection is laryngopharyngeal reflux, a form of acid reflux.
Lingual tonsilitis is likely underdiagnosed since the lingual tonsils are only visible with a special tool called a laryngoscope. Most of the medical literature is on adults with this condition. It’s not clear whether this is due to it being more common in adults or because children are less likely to be checked for it.
Complications of tonsilitis are uncommon but can include:
- rheumatic fever, an autoimmune reaction that causes inflammation throughout your body
- abscess, the buildup of pus
- scarlet fever, an infection that causes a bright red rash
- acute glomerulonephritis, inflammation of small structures in your kidneys
- middle ear infection
- obstructive sleep apnea
Lingual tonsil abscesses are extremely rare but can be life threatening.
The National Health Service recommends seeing a doctor if tonsilitis symptoms don’t go away within 4 days or if you have repeated throat infections.
A doctor might suspect tonsilitis based on your symptoms. Tests that can help support your diagnosis include:
- a throat swab to test for bacteria
- a complete blood count to look for signs of infection
- a physical exam where the doctor will:
Lingual tonsilitis may not require any specific treatment if it isn’t causing complications. General ways you may be able to help ease symptoms include:
- getting plenty of rest to help your body recover
- staying hydrated and drinking plenty of fluids
- taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen (Tylenol)
Bacterial infections are often treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are not effective for tonsilitis caused by viral infections.
Surgical removal of the tonsils may be considered for people with frequent infections.
The best way to prevent tonsilitis is to take steps to avoid contact with the viruses and bacteria that cause it.
You may be able to prevent tonsilitis by:
- wearing a mask in areas where there’s a high risk of coming into contact with people who are sick
- avoiding people with respiratory or throat infections when possible
- avoiding sharing drinks, utensils, or food with people with strep throat or other contagious infections
- getting vaccinated for viruses such as the flu and COVID-19
- washing your hands regularly with soapy water
Here are some frequently asked questions people have about lingual tonsilitis.
Is lingual tonsillitis dangerous?
How long does lingual tonsillitis last?
Acute tonsilitis usually resolves within a week. A small number of people have tonsilitis for longer or have recurrent tonsilitis that may require surgical removal of the tonsils.
A doctor can diagnose lingual tonsilitis with a test called a laryngoscopy. They can also perform a throat swab to see if your throat infection is caused by bacteria. Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics.