Sore throat

Updated 24 February 2016

Diagnosing tonsillitis

Diagnosis of tonsillitis is based on a physical examination of the throat and may include a throat culture.

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You can easily check someone's tonsils for tonsillitis at home using the following method: Use a spoon and a torch. Depress the tongue gently with the handle of the spoon. Ask the patient to say "Aaahhh" while you shine the torch onto the back of the throat. You will easily be able to see if the tonsils look bright red and swollen, or have a yellow or white coating.

If so, you should see a healthcare professional for an examination and diagnosis.

‘Strep’ tonsillitis

To diagnose a Streptococcus infection, your doctor may do a so-called rapid strep test. This test takes only about 15 to 20 minutes, and can usually be done in the doctor’s office. If the result is not strongly negative and you have strep symptoms, your doctor may then also do a more traditional throat culture, which takes longer to be analysed.

Taking a throat culture is a painless procedure; it involves taking a sample of mucus from the back of the throat with a swab. If your doctor’s office is not suitably equipped, the sample may have to be sent to an outside laboratory for analysis.

Infectious mononucleosis (glandular fever)

Because infectious mononucleosis has such a wide range of symptoms, it may be difficult for a doctor to immediately diagnose this condition. After doing a physical exam, the doctor usually will take a blood sample to check for the presence of abnormal white blood cells or antibodies that are diagnostic of infectious mononucleosis.

Other conditions

The doctor will also examine the tonsils and soft palate to check for the presence of a tonsillar abscess. 

Read more: 

Symptoms of tonsillitis  

Causes of tonsillitis  

Preventing tonsillitis 

Reviewed by Prof Eugene Weinberg, Paediatrician Health24, February 2015.