Picture of the Tonsils

Human Anatomy

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on June 28, 2020

Picture of the Human Tonsils

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The tonsils (palatine tonsils) are a pair of soft tissue masses located at the rear of the throat (pharynx). Each tonsil is composed of tissue similar to lymph nodes, covered by pink mucosa (like on the adjacent mouth lining). Running through the mucosa of each tonsil are pits, called crypts.

The tonsils are part of the lymphatic system, which helps to fight infections. However, removal of the tonsils does not seem to increase susceptibility to infection. Tonsils vary widely in size and swell in response to infection.

Tonsil Conditions

Tonsil Tests

  • Throat (pharynx) swab: A doctor rubs a cotton swab on the tonsils and throat and sends the swab for tests. Usually this is done to check for bacteria such as Streptococcus.
  • Monospot test: A blood test can detect certain antibodies, which can help confirm that a person’s symptoms are due to mononucleosis.
  • Epstein-Barr virus antibodies: If a monospot test is negative, antibodies in the blood against EBV might help diagnose mononucleosis.

Tonsil Treatments

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National Institutes of Health.



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