Cover image for functions of tonsils

Every human being is born with tonsils. But, by the time one reaches its teenage or late adolescent age, the tonsils tend to shrink. However, a large section of masses are clueless about what these small pink tissues do? 

Pristyn Care doctors often come across questions such as “Where are the tonsils?”,  “What do they do?” or “Why should they be taken care of?”. 

In this blog, we will discuss in detail the functions of the tonsils, its size and location, the conditions that can occur and the treatment for the same. 

What are the Tonsils?

Tonsils are small organs that are located at the back of the throat. These soft tissues are part of the lymphatic system that makes an important part of the immune system. 


You can see the tonsils by opening the mouth wide in front of a mirror. The two fleshy bumps that you see at the sides and back of the mouth are the tonsils. 


These were once considered useless organs as they are made obsolete by evolution. Although small glands, these are considered very important.

There are three types of tonsils in the body-

  1. Pharyngeal tonsils

    These tonsils are present near the pharynx which are present since birth and by the time someone reaches preteen, they disappear. When this type of tonsils swells, these are known as adenoids.

  2. Palatine tonsils

    What we commonly refer to as the tonsils are palatine tonsils. These look as if they are coming from each side and are exposed to the mouth cavity.

  3. Lingual tonsils

    Located at the base of the tongue, this type of tonsils have several pits that make the tongue surface look irregular.

What are the functions of tonsils?

Tonsils have several uses. The main function of the tonsils is to trap the germs that are entering the body when you breathe in. They act as the first line of defense when infectious germs enter the body. For instance, the tonsils detect bacteria and viruses that enter the body through the mouth and nose and flush them through the lymph, which is a clear and colorless fluid.

In addition to the defense system, the tonsils also prevent foreign objects from sliding into the lungs. 

These also filter out bacteria and viruses. Moreover, these also produce white blood cells and antibodies. 

What is the size and location of tonsils?

The size of tonsils varies with age. In young babies and adults, the tonsils are very small and are barely visible. In children belonging to the age group of two to five, the tonsils enlarge in size, so much so that they can touch each other. Although generally not a concern, they can cause some problems while sleeping at night. 

What are the problems that can occur in the tonsils?

The most common condition that occurs in the tonsils is an infection due to bacterial or viral invasion. Some of the common problems that occur in the tonsils are-

  • Tonsillitis- This is the infection of the tonsils that are caused due to bacteria or viruses. These can be of two types- acute or chronic. Acute tonsillitis causes swelling and sore throat. Chronic tonsillitis occurs due to repeated infections of the tonsils. 


  • Peritonsillar abscess This is a pocket of pus that develops when the infection in the tonsils is left untreated. 


  • Acute mononucleosis- The Epstein-Barr virus can cause swelling in the tonsils, fever, sore throat, rash, and fatigue. 


  • Strep throat- This occurs when a bacteria infects the tonsils and throat. Along with a sore throat, you can also have fever and neck pain. 


  • Enlarged tonsils- These reduce the size of the airway, which can lead to snoring or sleep apnea


What is the treatment for problems in the tonsils?

The treatment of any problem in the tonsils depends on the causes. Some of the common treatment options are-


  • Taking medications to cure the infection which is causing problems in the throat
  • Surgery such as tonsillectomy is the only option when no medications work for treating the problems in the tonsils. 

Also Read:


What is the structure of tonsils?

The tonsils are soft tissues located at the back of the throat. The tissues are similar to those which lymph nodes are made up of.

Are tonsils important?

Tonsils play an important role in fighting off the infection. These are glands that are part of the lymphatic system hence, these act as the first line of defense.

Can tonsils grow back?

When the doctor fails to remove the tonsils entirely, the tissues left behind can regrow and get infected again.

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