Tonsil infection, or tonsillitis, is an inflammation of the tonsils caused by a viral or bacterial infection. It is a common childhood illness, striking those between the ages of 5 and 15 most often.
The tonsils, soft tissues positioned behind the tongue in the back of the throat, were once considered unnecessary, and were often removed in a surgical procedure known as a tonsillectomy. Doctors have come to realize they play an important immune system role, trapping bacteria and germs before they can reach the bronchial passages and thereby preventing infection. Because of their constant exposure to viruses and bacteria, tonsils are vulnerable to infection themselves.
Tonsil Infection Symptoms
When the tonsils become swollen, they cause pain and a variety of symptoms. They will appear red and inflamed, and may have white or yellow spots on them. Symptoms include sore throat, fever, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, bad breath, headache, stomachache, swollen glands, and a stiff neck. Younger children may experience drooling and exhibit marked irritability and a refusal to eat.
Viruses such as the common cold are most often responsible for tonsil infections. Bacteria can also cause tonsillitis, especially the group A streptococcus bacterium. A related infection known as strep throat often accompanies a tonsil infection.
The child’s doctor will check for tonsillitis through a physical exam and a close-up inspection of the throat, ears, and nose with a lighted instrument known as an otoscope. A throat swab to test for strep is usually performed at the same time.
Tonsil Infection Treatment
Home care is beneficial in relieving the symptoms of a tonsil infection, and aiding in a speedier recovery. Make sure the child gets plenty of rest and liquids; warm broth or tea with honey, and cold Popsicles, can help soothe the throat. Gargling with warm saltwater several times a day may also help. If the child is older than four, sucking on lozenges can help relieve a sore throat. Use a humidifier to moisten the air, or have the child sit in a steamy bathroom for a few minutes. Pain and fever can be treated with over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, but refrain from giving the child aspirin, as this has been linked to a rare but life-threatening illness called Reye’s syndrome.
When strep throat or another bacteria is the cause of the child’s tonsil infection, antibiotics are prescribed. Make sure the child takes the full dose of antibiotics, even if the infection has cleared up. This prevents a rebound in symptoms.
Surgical removal of the tonsils is nowhere near as common as it was in the past. While still an option, a tonsillectomy is usually reserved for severe or recurring cases of tonsillitis.
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