Recurrent Tonsillitis

Take a history from this 18 year old restaurant worker who has had suffered with recurrent tonsillitis.

Example answer


  • Unilateral or bilateral

  • Onset

  • Duration

  • Number of episodes – SIGN guidelines

  • Abnormal appearance of tonsils – ulceration, shape

  • Associated symptoms – sore throat, lymphadenopathy, reflux, halitosis, rash, snoring

  • Red flag symptoms – odynophagia, referred otalgia, dyspnoea, dysphonia, dysphagia, haemoptysis, haematemesis

  • Constitutional symptoms – weight loss, malaise, anorexia, night sweats

  • Past Medical History – previous cancer, previous ENT surgery, immuno-compromise, previous quinsy

  • Drug History – immunosuppressants

  • Social History – smoking, alcohol, occupation

  • Family History – Family history of cancer

  • Systems review

  • Elicit the patient’s ideas, concerns and expectations 


  • Summarise consultation

  • Thank patient

  • Offer appropriate differential diagnosis

Differential diagnoses to consider*


  • Lymphoma

  • Squamous cell carcinoma


  • Benign tonsillar hypertrophy


  • Tonsillitis

  • Glandular fever

  • Quinsy

  • Syphilis 

  • Gonorrhoea


  • Tonsilloliths

  • Post-nasal drip

  • Burns from hot food or drink

*Table not exhaustive


You will be asked to suggest an appropriate management plan based on your presumed diagnosis. Ensure that you offer a complete ENT examination including nasendoscopy prior to further investigations. 

Some examples are below:-

Suspected diagnosis

The following investigations/management strategies may be indicated however you must offer based on the clinical scenario you are given


  • Meets SIGN guidelines – offer and explain tonsillectomy

  • Does not meet SIGN guidelines – Counsel the patient to keep a symptom diary and document episodes requiring antibiotic treatment. 

You may also mention that you would ask for a senior opinion and inform the patient of the outcome if you are unsure.

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