What is Tonsillitis and How is it Treated?
Tonsils are lumps of tissue at the back of the throat. There are two of them, one on each side. Along with the adenoids, tonsils are part of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system clears away infection and keeps body fluids in balance. Tonsils and adenoids work by trapping the germs coming in through the mouth and nose.
What is tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis is an inflammation (swelling) of the tonsils. Sometimes along with tonsillitis, the adenoids are also swollen.
What causes tonsillitis?
The cause of tonsillitis is usually a viral infection. Bacterial infections such as strep throat can also cause tonsillitis.
Who gets tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis is most common in children over age two. Almost every child in the United States gets it at least once. Tonsillitis caused by bacteria is more common in kids ages 5-15. Tonsillitis caused by a virus is more common in younger children.
Adults can get tonsillitis, but it is not very common.
Is tonsillitis contagious?
Although tonsillitis is not contagious, the viruses and bacteria that cause it are contagious. Frequent handwashing can help prevent spreading or catching the infections.
What are the symptoms of tonsillitis?
The symptoms of tonsillitis include:
- A sore throat, which may be severe
- Red, swollen tonsils
- Trouble swallowing
- A white or yellow coating on the tonsils
- Swollen glands in the neck
- Bad breath
What are the treatments for tonsillitis?
Treatment for tonsillitis depends on the cause. If the cause is a virus, there is no medicine to treat it. If the cause is a bacterial infection, such as strep throat, your child will need to take antibiotics. It is important for your child to finish the antibiotics even if he or she feels better. If treatment stops too soon, some bacteria may survive and re-infect your child.
No matter what is causing the tonsillitis, there are some things you can do to help your child feel better. Make sure that your child:
- Gets a lot of rest
- Drinks plenty of fluids
- Tries eating soft foods if it hurts to swallow
- Tries eating warm liquids or cold foods like popsicles to soothe the throat Isn’t around cigarette smoke or do anything else that could irritate the throat
- Sleeps in a room with a humidifier
- Gargles with saltwater
- Sucks on a lozenge (but do not give them to children under four; they can choke on them)
- Takes an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen. Children and teenagers should not take aspirin.
- In some cases, your child may need a tonsillectomy.
What is a tonsillectomy and why might my child need one?
A tonsillectomy is surgery to remove the tonsils. Your child might need it if he or she keeps getting tonsillitis, has bacterial tonsillitis that does not get better with antibiotics, has tonsils are too big, and are causing trouble breathing or swallowing.
Your child usually gets the surgery and goes home later that day. Very young children and people who have complications may need to stay in the hospital overnight. It can take a week or two before your child completely recovers from the surgery.