The tonsils are small lymph nodes situated right at the back of the throat. You can usually see them when you open your mouth wide and if they are inflamed, you will most definitely spot them, usually two swollen mounds at either side of the throat.
Occasionally, you might find that you only have swelling on one side of the throat – a swollen tonsil on one side only. Although this could be a sign of tonsillitis (which normally affects both sides rather than just one side), it could also be a sign of a couple of other conditions which will normally require some form of medical attention in order to treat them.
What Can Cause a Swollen Tonsil on One Side?
We’ve already mentioned tonsillitis – one of the most common conditions which would cause swollen tonsils. When they become infected, they become very swollen and inflamed and this is when tonsillitis occurs, a condition that is very common in young children between the ages of 2 and 15 years of age.
Usually caused by a virus, or a bacteria called Streptococcus (or strep), it is often accompanied with a number of other symptoms including a very sore and red throat, bad react (halitosis), swelling of the neck, a weak voice, trouble breathing and swallowing, aches and pains, a fever and a decreased appetite.
The Streptococcus bacteria can also cause ‘strep-throat’, which carries the same symptoms as tonsillitis but can be passed on through coughing and sneezing.
If you think you have tonsillitis, a throat swab will confirm the diagnosis and then the condition can be treated with antibiotics. If the problem persists (especially in young children), the doctor may refer you for a tonsillectomy at which point the tonsils are removed and the problem should go away. In some rare cases, not all the tonsils are removed and they can grow back.
With both strep-throat and tonsillitis, the bacteria and viruses are spread through human-to-human contact so things like coughing, sneezing, touching, etc. The bacteria that causes tonsillitis can be active for a couple of weeks, and a viral infection is likely to be contagious for a slightly reduced length of time – seven to ten days.
‘Quinsy’ or Peritonsillar abscess as it is more formally known, is another reason why you might have a swollen tonsil on one side. This is a complication of tonsillitis and is a ball of pus collecting between the tonsil and the throat wall. An abscess forms, normally quite quickly, and it can spread the infection around the mouth and also around the body, especially if it ruptures or is not treated.
Treatment of quinsy normally involves a rather unpleasant combination of a very large needle and antibiotics. A doctor will drain the ball of pus in an attempt to get it all out but it can come back. With recurrent cases, a tonsillectomy is advised.
Quinsy will have very much the same kind of symptoms as strep throat and tonsillitis – a fever, aches and pains, headaches, sore throat, loss of appetite, etc. but can also come with a few more serious ones including difficult in breathing, a very high temperature, great difficulty and pain when trying to breathe or swallow, and a generally rather unwell feeling.
What Can Be Used to Treat a Swollen Tonsil on One Side?
The treatment of your swollen tonsil or tonsils will very much depend on the condition. In some cases, it’s as simple as antibiotics but in others, the treatment could go as far as surgery.
There are some at-home remedies you can try if you have a sore throat, swollen tonsils, or any of the other associated symptoms. Throat lozenges can be sucked which provide relief and there are some types which offer anesthetic properties to alleviate the pain even further. You can also buy throat-sprays which help to soothe the pain and treat the bacteria or virus too.
To give your voice a break for a while, you should try to avoid too much talking and definitely no shouting and if you can, try to rest as much as you can and reduce your stress levels. Smooth foods are easier to swallow and it is important to try and eat and drink as best you can. Your immune system won’t work effectively at fighting off the bugs if it isn’t in tip-top condition itself and to achieve that, you need to make sure you have nourished it.
When to Seek Medical Advice
Although common, a swollen tonsil on one side is something you will want to get checked out by a doctor. This is even more so the case if you have accompanying symptoms such as a high temperature, a rash over the body, no improvement after a couple of days of treatment, very dark-colored urine, difficult breathing or swollen and painful joints.