According to WebMD, white spots on the tonsils can indicate strep throat, an infection caused by streptococcus bacteria. Strep throat symptoms tend to come on strong and are typically more severe than sore throat symptoms that accompany a cold or flu. Additional symptoms include inflamed tonsils, loss of appetite and fever. Strep throat is diagnosed through rapid testing and treated with antibiotics.
The Mayo Clinic explains that a white coating or patches on the tonsils are common symptoms of tonsillitis, an inflammation of the tonsils caused by viruses and bacteria. Additional symptoms of tonsillitis include swollen tonsils, headache, bad breath, fever, painful swallowing and hoarseness.
According to Medline Plus, tonsillitis can also cause tenderness of the throat and difficulty breathing if the tonsils are severely enlarged. Tonsillitis is typically treated with antibiotics and in most cases, the infection clears up within two to three days with proper treatment.
One complication of tonsillitis that requires immediate medical attention is the formation of a peritonsillar abscess, a bacteria-filled swelling that can travel into the lungs if ruptured. Peritonsillar abscesses are treated with antibiotics if caught early, but severe infections often require drainage using a needle or surgical tool, states Medline Plus. Symptoms of peritonsillar abscesses include sore throat, muffled voice, drooling and difficulty in opening the mouth.