Tonsillitis 101

As children, one of the most common complaints we had was a sore throat. This excused us from a day of school and gave us a day of rest. But then you feel something hard just near your throat that makes it very painful to swallow. Wait… this is not normal! You complain to your mother, knowing that what you have is no ordinary sore throat. She gives you medicine for cough and cold and tells you not to worry. It is just tonsillitis.

What is tonsillitis? Does it have something to do with those hard things near your throat? More importantly, what do you do if you have tonsillitis? Let us find out!

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Overview

Your tonsils are a pair of oval-shaped tissue masses located at the back of your throat. You can find your tonsils by opening wide and looking just beyond your teeth. Their purpose is to stop any infection that enters your body via your nose and mouth from getting to the rest of your body. But there are times when an infection can be too much to handle, and the tonsils do become infected which leads to their swelling. Normal tonsils will look pink, just like your gums and the roof of your mouth while inflamed and swollen tonsils will be red and very noticeable. When an infection reaches your tonsils, this condition is called tonsillitis. Although it affects any age group, children are more prone to getting this infection.

There are three types of tonsillitis:

  • Acute tonsillitis. This type has symptoms that typically last 3 to 4 days but can sometimes go as long as 2 weeks.
  • Recurrent tonsillitis. Recurrent tonsillitis is when you get tonsillitis several times in one year.
  • Chronic tonsillitis. For those who suffer from long-term tonsil-infection, you already have chronic tonsillitis.

Why do tonsils get infected?

As our immune system’s first line of defense against bacteria and viruses, the tonsils act as a gate to the throat and nasal passageways. This exposes it to infections and inflammation. The tonsil’s immune system function declines after puberty though, which is why tonsillitis cases aren’t that common in adults.

Risk factors

There are certain factors that make a person more prone to getting tonsillitis. These include:

  • Tonsillitis affects mostly children from the ages of 5 to 15. While it can affect adults and toddlers, these cases are not as common.
  • Frequent exposure to germs. School-age children who are in close contact with their classmates. They are also the ones who are frequently exposed to viruses or bacteria that can cause tonsillitis.

Causes

Tonsilitis can be caused by any number of bacteria or viruses. One of the most common causes of tonsillitis is the same bacteria that cause strep throat, which is Streptococcus pyogenes. Other viruses that can cause tonsillitis are adenovirus and rhinovirus, while when it comes to bacteria,  Chlamydia pneumonia and Bordetella pertussis may also cause the infection.

Symptoms

The symptoms of tonsillitis are very easy to spot. But do note not all of the symptoms may show up on the patients. The symptoms are:

  • Painful or difficulty swallowing
  • The back of the throat is red (or sore throat)
  • Fever
  • Shivering
  • Irritability
  • Ear ache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach pain
  • Stiff neck
  • Foul smelling breath
  • Throaty or muffled voice
  • Tonsils with white spots
  • Tonsils that are very swollen

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Treatment of tonsillitis

The appropriate and necessary treatment for tonsillitis will depend on what’s causing it, which is why it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis. If you or your child are experiencing any symptoms of tonsillitis, don’t self-diagnose and instead, seek the attention of a medical professional so that they can prescribe the right medication and treatment for you or your child.

Mild cases of tonsillitis can be taken care of at home. The patient will be required to take medicine for tonsil inflammation such as antibiotics to combat the infection and medicine for fever to combat the fever. Hydration and rest are the keys to getting better. The patient can also gargle a solution of warm water with salt three to five times a day. Throat lozenges are also recommended although do remember that they must not be given to very young children as they may be a choking hazard. With proper tonsillitis management, symptoms will usually disappear after the fifth day.

The last resort will be a tonsillectomy or the removal of the tonsils. This will only be recommended for severe cases such as tonsillitis that causes infection, numerous cases of tonsillitis in a year, breathing difficulty, or tonsillitis that isn’t reacting to treatment. It is done in 30-45 minutes and the patient can go home in 4 hours. Recovery time can be 10-14 days.

When to see a doctor

When you first begin noticing symptoms of tonsillitis in yourself or your child, contact your doctor right away so that you can get an accurate diagnosis.

Call you doctor if your child is experiencing:

  • A sore throat with fever
  • A sore throat that won’t go away within 24 to 48 hours
  • Painful or difficult swallowing
  • Extreme weakness, fatigue, or fussiness

Immediately head to the hospital if your child is showing any of the following:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Extreme difficulty swallowing
  • Excessive drooling

Prevention

Remember that tonsillitis is a highly contagious illness. Even sharing the same cup may lead to an infection. To lessen your chances of being infected, do not share food,  utensils or cutlery with people who are sick as this may lead to you getting infected as well. Practice good hygiene by washing your hands (especially after contact with someone sick or coming from the restroom) and bringing a small bottle of alcohol with you at all times. If you are the patient, do the rest of the world a favor by staying at home and getting well to avoid the spread of infection.

For any kid, being sick is no joke. Always take good care of your health and try to stay home when you are sick. Remember, health is wealth!