Tonsils are located in the back of your child’s throat and work as filters, to trap germs that might otherwise enter their airways, leading to infection. Tonsils also produce the antibodies that fight infection. However, sometimes the tonsils themselves can be infected. They can become overwhelmed by viruses or bacteria, which cause them to get inflamed and swollen. This condition is otherwise known as tonsillitis.
Tonsillitis is especially common in children. It may occur just occasionally, but it can recur with frequency.
The causes of tonsillitis
Viral infections and bacteria may cause tonsillitis. One of the most common causes of tonsillitis is Streptococcus (strep) bacteria. Some other causes may include:
- Influenza Virus
- Para influenza Viruses
- Epstein-Barr Virus
- Herpes Simplex Virus
The symptoms of tonsillitis
The most common symptoms of tonsillitis include swelling and inflammation of the tonsils. These may be serious enough to cause a blockage of the airways. Some other symptoms may include:
- Redness of the tonsils
- Throat pain or tenderness
- Yellow or white coating on the tonsils
- Loss of voice or hoarseness
- Painful ulcers or blisters on the throat
- Loss of Appetite
- Difficulty breathing through the mouth, or swallowing
- Ear pain
- Chills and fever
- Swollen glands in the jaw or neck area
- Bad breath
If your child has tonsillitis, their symptoms could also include abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting.
How is tonsillitis treated?
The cause will dictate, in some part, the treatment used for tonsillitis. In order to find out the cause, your child’s ear, nose and throat specialist may perform a throat swab culture or rapid strep test. These both involve a gentle swabbing of the back area of the throat. Laboratory tests on these swabs can effectively detect bacterial infection. However, viral infections will show up on these tests, but they are generally assumed, if the bacterial tests are negative.
If your child’s tonsillitis is caused by bacteria, antibiotics are the best method of treatment. They can be given as one shot, or taken orally for 10 days. Symptoms generally improve after a few days, but it is very important that the antibiotics be taken until they are gone, to ensure that all bacteria have been eliminated. Some children may need a second course of the antibiotics to completely rid them of the infection.
If your child’s tonsillitis was caused by a virus, their body will be able to fight off this infection without antibiotics.
How can you make your child comfortable until the infection is defeated?
You can help your child to feel more comfortable while they have tonsillitis by:
- Have them drink cold or warm fluids for throat pain.
- Make sure they get enough rest.
- Use a cool-mist humidifier or vaporiser in the bedroom.
- Have them eat smooth foods like applesauce, ice cream or gelatin.
- Have them suck on lozenges that contain benzocaine or another anaesthetic.
- Help them to gargle with warm salt water.
- You can also give them over the counter pain relievers for pain and discomfort.
When is a tonsillectomy necessary?
Your tonsils comprise lymphatic tissue. They should only be removed if medical management has failed or you child suffers from recurrent tonsillitis. Likewise, if your child’s tonsils cause difficulty in eating or obstruction of the upper airway, they should be removed. This surgery is known as a tonsillectomy. These are usually done with scalpels, but doctors today also may use electrocautery, ultrasonic energy, radio waves or lasers to evaporate, burn or cut away your child’s enlarged tonsils. Discuss your child’s options to help his surgeon determine which is best for them.
If you have problems with your tonsils make an appointment to see our ear nose and throat specialist.