Acupuncture for Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils. The tonsils are two small glands found at the back of the throat behind the tongue. The function of these glands is not entirely clear, but research suggests that they help to fight infections. Tonsillitis can be caused by either a virus or bacteria, although most cases are viral. The incubation period (the time between picking up the infection and symptoms starting to appear) is usually two to four days.

Acute tonsillitis is an acute non-specific inflammation of the tonsils. It occurs mainly in the spring and autumn and affects children and teenagers primarily. Symptoms include; chills, fever, headache, sore throat aggravated by swallowing and general soreness of the body. Acute tonsillitis can transform into a chronic disease. If it arises from a streptococcal infection it can lead to rheumatic fever and nephritis as well as otitis media, so immediate and proper treatment is essential. Tonsillitis often clears up on its own without the need for treatment, but in severe or recurring cases the tonsils may be removed in a common procedure called a tonsillectomy.  Sometimes, if tonsillitis is caused by bacteria, antibiotics may be prescribed.

Tonsillitis and TCM

Chinese medicine differentiates between diseases causing a painful throat (such as laryngitis), and those causing tonsillitis. In the former, there may be issues involving specific organs (particularly the Lungs and Stomach). In Chinese diagnosis tonsillitis is caused either by an external factor (Wind-Heat) or by internal heat generated from the Lungs and Stomach which flares up and accumulates in the throat.

The Chinese medical practitioner will identify the causes of the condition, which may include; poor diet, excessive smoking, emotional disturbance, or the incomplete elimination of an external pathogenic factor. This last cause can arise from the over use of antibiotics, which are classified in Chinese medicine as “cold “ drugs. These serve to suppress the infection but do not address the underlying cause, which is then left to recur. Successive courses of antibiotics do not generally serve to alleviate chronic conditions of this sort.

Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Tonsillitis?

In 1979 the World Health Organisation published a list of various conditions in which acupuncture was indicated as a potential treatment based on clinical experience. Tonsillitis was included on this list.  Subsequently, some clinical trials have been carried out: for example, Sun et al (2003) showed a high rate of success treating 58 patients with acupuncture using a pricking technique.

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WHO (2002): Review and Analysis of Reports of Controlled Clinical Trials

Bai, X (1996) Acupuncture in Clinical Practice Oxford, Butterworth Heinemann

Sun, P (2002) The Treatment of Pain with Chinese Herbs and Acupuncture, Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone

Sun Y, Zhang Z, Miao H, Li W (2003) Treatment of 58 cases of tonsillitis by pricking technique Journal of Acupuncture and Tuina Science, vol.1, no. 2 p40

Header image: staff (2014). “Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014”. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436. – งานของตัว, CC BY 3.0,


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states.  Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia.  A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis.  Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner.  The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.