We report the case of a 23-year-old male who presented to the emergency department with severe upper airway obstruction resulting from infection of the palatine tonsils. Manifestations of tonsillar infection and airway obstruction included hoarseness and extreme difficulty breathing, severe sore throat and inability to swallow liquids or solids. Urgent otolaryngologic consultation was obtained, and the patient was taken directly to the operating suite for nasotracheal intubation with tracheostomy standby. The patient was maintained on broad-spectrum antibiotics and was discharged after a hospital course complicated by pulmonary oedema, tracheitis and difficulty weaning from the ventilator, requiring temporary tracheostomy. The Monospot test was negative for infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). We could find no previously reported cases of adults with severe palatine tonsillar-induced airway obstruction which was not due to infection with EBV (mononucleosis). The airway management of obstruction due to palatine tonsillar hypertrophy is discussed.