Swollen Tonsil on One Side: What Causes One Swollen Tonsil?

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Swollen Tonsil on One SideNormally when we hear of a constantly painful sore throat with swelling and a loss of appetite, we immediately think of a problem with the tonsils.

But, did you know it is possible for only one tonsil to be affected? And, did you know not all fingers point to tonsillitis?

There are other underlying health conditions that result in a swollen tonsil on one side. We will take a closer look at the tonsils and how to distinguish and treat the three main causes of one swollen tonsil.

Our tonsils are small bumps on either side in the back of the throat consisting of lymph node tissue.

They are solely responsible for fighting infections travelling in the mouth and nose, mainly in the first year of life while the immune system develops and becomes strong.

The tonsils can become swollen when affected by an infection and present various symptoms, which is commonly seen in those between the ages of two and 15.

What Causes Swollen Tonsil on One Side?

Having a tonsil swollen on one side can seem strange, but it does happen with several conditions of the throat. The three most common ailments are tonsillitis, strep throat, and peritonsillar abscess, better known as quinsy. While both tonsils can usually be affected by these conditions, it is possible to have one tonsil swollen.

1. Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis refers to the swelling and inflammation of the tonsils. Both young children and adults can experience this condition. Tonsillitis may be the result of a bacterial or a viral infection.

If a bacterial infection is the culprit, you can be contagious through direct contact for up to two weeks, while a viral infection usually remains contagious from seven to 10 days. Most cases have a link with the streptococcus bacteria, while some are the result of different viruses. These can include the influenza virus, the herpes simplex virus, the Epstein-Barr virus, the parainfluenza virus, the enterovirus, and the adenovirus.

2. Strep Throat

Streptococcus is another cause of having only one tonsil swollen. This condition can be seen mostly in those ages five to 15 but can affect anyone at any age.

Strep throat can cause inflammation and swelling.  It is highly contagious, as it can spread by coughing and sneezing. It is important to note you can be in contact with a contagious person before they present any symptoms of strep throat.

3. Peritonsillar Abscess

A peritonsillar abscess is also called quinsy, and while it is not a common ailment, it is a genuine issue. It can be a complication of tonsillitis as pus from the infection gathers between the tonsil and the wall of the throat, and develops into an abscess.

The abscess can also be the result of mononucleosis. If the saliva glands under the tongue (Weber glands) become inflamed, a peritonsillar abscess can also form. This recurring condition is more likely to affect teens and young adults.

One Swollen Tonsil Symptoms

The three most common causes mentioned above present similar symptoms as they all affect the throat and mouth regions, and are the result of an infection. We have broken down the signs and symptoms in accordance with the ailment.

1. Tonsillitis

2. Strep Throat

  • Sore throat
  • High fever
  • Redness in the throat
  • White patches in the throat
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen neck glands
  • Headache
  • Chills

3. Peritonsillar Abscess

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Headache
  • Blocked airway
  • Swollen neck or face
  • Muffled voice
  • Drooling
  • Bad breath
  • Lung infection
  • Earache
  • Difficulty opening the mouth

Treating Swollen Tonsil on One Side

The swollen tonsil on one side treatment plan depends not only on the originating cause but also the severity of the condition. Whether it is from tonsillitis, strep throat, or a peritonsillar abscess, you should rest your voice as much as your body during the healing process. Maintain hydration and nourish your body with soft, smooth food choices to prevent further throat pain.

You should follow the treatment tip according to the cause of your swollen tonsil on one side.

1. Tonsillitis Treatment

A physical examination and a swab test by a medical professional will detect a bacterial or a viral infection. If your tonsillitis is due to a bacterial infection, an antibiotic will be prescribed.

Viral infections are best to heal on their own. A few home remedies to help alleviate the symptoms include gargling with warm salt water, maintaining a moist throat with cool drinks, and using a vaporizer or cold-mist humidifier. It helps to consume soft foods such as ice cream, Jell-O, and soup.

2. Strep Throat Treatment

It is important to avoid spreading this bacterial infection with a quick treatment of antibiotics such as penicillin or amoxicillin. When you are at home, gargle with warm salt water, use a cold-mist humidifier, and stay hydrated with cold or hot drinks depending on the soreness of your throat.

3. Peritonsillar Abscess Treatment

If the abscess has yet to rupture on its own, have the pus drained by a medical doctor. You can expect to be prescribed antibiotics to help clear the infection, and you may require surgery to remove the tonsils with recurring episodes.

Pain, sore throat, and difficulty swallowing can all be symptoms of having a problem with your tonsils. There are some health conditions that can directly affect only one tonsil, if not both. In most cases, a bacterial infection is the cause of aggravating symptoms and complications.

The three most common tonsil problems share several symptoms and usually require medical assistance in the form of antibiotics. There are home remedies to use in addition to the age-old treatment of rest to help deal with and alleviate painful symptoms.

Humphreys, J., “Swollen Tonsil On One Side,” Med Health Daily; http://www.medhealthdaily.com/swollen-tonsil-on-one-side/, last accessed May 23, 2017.
“Swollen Tonsil On One Side,” New Health Advisor; http://www.newhealthadvisor.com/Swollen-Tonsil-on-One-Side.html, last accessed May 23, 2017.