Most tonsil pain is caused by irritation due to allergies or by an infection. Tonsil infections are often caused by group-A strep bacteria, as well as other bacteria and viruses. Sometimes tonsil pain may also be caused by a secondary infection like the common cold or influenza. This is generally due to drainage, much as is the case with allergies.
Allergies may cause pain in the tonsils due to congestion in the nasal passages which causes irritation. Other times allergens themselves, such as pollen, may attach to the tonsils, throat, and nasal membranes and lead to inflammation and pain. Treatment options include medications designed for allergies, and sometimes allergy shots for those with severe seasonal or continuous allergies.
More commonly, bacterial infections are the cause of this pain. Bacteria can be breathed in through the mouth, or naturally occurring bacteria in the nasal passages or elsewhere in the body can overgrow on the tonsils and lead to inflammation and discomfort. Other symptoms of a tonsil infection can include fever, severe sore throat, pus accumulation on the tonsils, redness, chills, and swelling. Bacterial infections can often be treated with antibiotics.
Viral infections can also infect the tonsils and cause pain, but these often clear up on their own. Medication can be used to alleviate symptoms, but there is no known medication which is capable of killing a virus. Many people try to use antibiotics, but these are not effective for viral infections.
Most of the time, this condition will eventually clear up on its own without intervention. Patients can drink cold liquids, eat frozen treats, or take over the counter medications to alleviate symptoms in the meantime. Only when discomfort becomes very severe or prolonged is a doctor's care usually necessary. A doctor may also be needed for those who also have other symptoms.
Aside from allergies, most causes of tonsil pain are contagious, meaning they can be spread from one person to another. Those with severe discomfort in the throat which lasts for more than a day or two should consult a doctor to find the underlying cause. They should also avoid crowds of people to prevent passing the virus or bacteria. In most situations the pain can be remedied with medication, either for pain or to kill bacteria. Occasionally, long-term problems can arise and the tonsils will need to be removed surgically.