TonsillitisPatient friendly summary

  • UVB light may reduce the risk of tonsillitis. This disorder occurs most often in the winter. There is less light and often more respiratory infections.
  • Vitamin D may lower the risk of tonsillitis. Vitamin D enhances the body’s immune system and reduces inflammation in response to infections.

The tonsils are lymph nodes in the back of the mouth, at the top of the throat. They usually help filter out bacteria and other germs. This prevents infection in the body.

Tonsillitis occurs when the tonsils themselves become infected and swollen. The throat becomes inflamed and very sore. This makes eating and swallowing difficult. Tonsillitis may recur. If this happens frequently, the tonsils may be surgically removed (this is called a tonsillectomy).

Risk factors

  • Bacterial infections are the primary risk factor for tonsillitis.
  • Viral infections are a minor risk factor.

Sunlight exposure and tonsillitis risk

There are no papers reporting the effects of sunlight on tonsillitis risk.

However, there are some reports that tonsillitis occurs more often in the winter than in other seasons. This could be due to less solar ultraviolet-B (UVB) light in the winter. Other infectious diseases, such as influenza and sepsis, also occur more frequently in the winter.

Vitamin D and tonsillitis

Vitamin D levels

In New Zealand, people undergoing surgery for recurrent tonsillitis and related diseases had low vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D reduces the risk and symptoms of other diseases. Related studies may indirectly identify how vitamin D may reduce the risk and symptoms of tonsillitis:

  • Tonsillitis has been reported to occur before Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Vitamin D is known to reduce the risk of Hodgkin’s.
  • Tonsillectomy is associated with an increased risk of breast and laryngeal cancer. Vitamin D reduces the risk of breast cancer. It may also reduce the risk of laryngeal cancer. Cancer takes a long time to develop. There may be many years between tonsillitis and cancer occurrence. Higher vitamin D levels early in life may lower the risk of cancer later in life.

How vitamin D works

Vitamin D may reduce the risk of tonsillitis by:

  • Enhancing the body’s immune system by producing cathelicidin and defensins (These proteins have antibacterial and antiviral effects to fight infections.)
  • Reducing the inflammatory response to infections

Prevention

There are no studies reporting that vitamin D lowers the risk of tonsillitis.

However, vitamin D blood levels above 40 ng/mL (100 nmol/L) lower the risk of respiratory infections. Most likely, these levels would also reduce the risk of tonsillitis.

Treatment

Increasing vitamin D levels when tonsillitis occurs may cure the infection. High doses of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) may be used for a short time to rapidly increase vitamin D and cathelicidin levels.

Find out more…

We will be adding a detailed evidence summary on this topic in the near future.  Please check back soon to find out more.

Page last edited: 17 May 2011