A tonsil is any collection of lymphoid tissue but the term tonsils are almost used to describe the palatine tonsils, a pair of structures at the back of the throat. They are part of the immune system and form the first line of defence for the digestive tract against ingested pathogens. However, their role is not fully understood.
The tonsils often become inflamed, usually from infection, a condition known as tonsillitis. In most cases, ibuprofen is the first drug of choice to treat the condition, but antibiotics are used if the inflammation is bacterial in origin. In severe cases, the tonsils can be surgically removed - a tonsillectomy. This procedure is recommended if the tonsils swell and result in difficulty breathing, speaking or swallowing. Care must be taken to do a differential diagnosis between tonsillitis and a more serious condition such as velopharyngeal inadequacy when speech problems occur.
The tonsils reach their largest size at puberty, and generally start to atrophy as an adolescent nears adulthood. Like many other organs, persons who have their tonsils removed generally live normal lifespans.