Acute tonsillectomy has been advocated for severe infectious mononucleosis (IM) pharyngotonsillitis with upper airway obstruction (UAO) and not responding to corticosteroids. This paper reviews and rationalizes our management. A five-year chart review was carried out with a follow-up telephone survey. There were 36 admissions. Nine had UAO of whom 89 per cent (eight of nine patients) had a tonsillectomy. The diagnosis of UAO was not standardized. Twenty-seven patients did not have UAO and only a small proportion of these patients, 16 per cent (four of 25) went on to have an elective tonsillectomy. Corticosteroids made no significant difference to the tonsillectomy rate. UAO appears to identify patients with more severe disease who are likely to suffer recurrent tonsillitis. Acute tonsillectomy is an appropriate treatment option for this subgroup. The diagnosis of significant IM UAO is not defined and a schema is proposed. Recurrent tonsillitis is an uncommon sequela of severe IM pharyngotonsillitis without UAO.