The tonsils are lymph nodes situated in the back of the mouth and top of the throat. Tonsils help fight germs that enter through our mouth or nose prior to cause infections in the rest of the body. Generally, tonsils perform their duty quite well. But often bacteria or viruses attack the tonsils and infect them. When such situation occurs, it suggests that you have tonsillitis. Tonsillitis is very common, especially in children.
Tonsillitis brings about inflammation of the tonsils and will often, but not at all times, also causes a sore throat and fever.
There are 2 major types of tonsillitis: acute and chronic.
- Acute tonsillitis can be bacterial or viral in origin.
Sub-acute tonsillitis is a result of the infection caused by the bacterium Actinomyces.
- Chronic tonsillitis can be long lasting if not treated on time, and is typically caused by bacterial infection and will exhibit pus on the tonsils.
No matter whether viral or bacterial, tonsillitis is normally passed on from one person to another by social contact like droplets in the air from sneezing. Most of the time viral infection is responsible for tonsillitis.
Bacterial tonsillitis is an outcome of the infection caused by Streptococcus pyogenes- the organism responsible for strep throat. If left untreated, strep throat may develop a more severe condition known as rheumatic fever, which can affect the heart even after several years.
Only about 30% of tonsillitis in children is due to strep throat.
Only 10% of tonsillitis in adults is a result of strep throat.
Sometimes, tonsillitis is due to an infection of spirochaeta and treponema, in this case it is termed as Vincent’s angina or Plaut-Vincent angina.
Although tonsillitis is connected with infection, it is presently indefinite whether the swelling and other symptoms are due to the infectious agents themselves or by the host immune response to these agents. Tonsillitis may be a consequence of anomalous immune responses to the normal bacterial flora of the nasopharynx.
- Sore throat
- Difficulty in feeding (in babies)
- Pain during swallowing
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Runny nose
- Redness of the tonsils and throat
- Tenderness in the glands of the neck (swollen lymph glands)
- White patches on the tonsils
- Redness of the eyes
- Ear ache (nerves that go to the back of the throat also extend to the ear)
- Voice changes or loss of voice
- Bad breath
Exams and Tests
The health care giver will examine the mouth and throat for swollen tonsils. The tonsils are generally reddened and may have white patches on them. The lymph nodes in the jaw and neck may seem swollen and tender to the touch.
Tests that may be performed include:
Rapid strep test
A streptococcal screen test help discover group A streptococcus, the most common reason of strep throat.
Throat swab culture
It is a laboratory test carried out in order to isolate and detect organisms that may bring about infection in the throat.
Self-Care at Home
Throat pain and fever may be improved if treated with over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (for example Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Soothe sore throat pain by gargling repeatedly with tepid salt water (8 ounces of lukewarm water mixed with 1 teaspoon salt).
Increase the intake of clear liquids to keep yourself away from dehydration.
There is no such research carried out that confirms that smoking cigarettes causes tonsillitis, however it is commonly accepted that smoking weakens the immune system. Also, children and adults living in smoke-prone surroundings may be exposed to factors that could cause a tonsillectomy. So, avoid smoking particularly in front of the kids.
- Treatments of tonsillitis involve pain relieving medications and lozenges. If the tonsillitis is caused by bacteria, then antibiotics are recommended along with penicillin being widely used. Erythromycin and Clarithromycin are prescribed for patients allergic to penicillin.
- In various cases of tonsillitis, the pain due to the inflamed tonsils warrants the prescription of topical anesthetics for short-term relief. Viscous lidocaine solutions are often recommended for this purpose, and anaesthetic throat lozenges having ingredients like benzocaine, lignocaine, benzydamine and flubiprofen are widely available even without prescription.
- Ibuprofen or other analgesics like aspirin or paracetamol can help reduce the edema and swelling, which will alleviate the pain and allow the patient to swallow liquids more easily.
- When tonsillitis happens due to a virus, the span of illness depends on the type of virus involved. Usually, one recovers within one week; however, some rare infections may remain for up to two weeks.
- It is essential to complete the medicinal course recommended by your physician even though you feel better.
- Chronic cases may hint at tonsillectomy (surgical removal of tonsils) as an option for treatment.
- Wash your hands often in order to check the spread of the virus or bacteria responsible for tonsillitis.
- Avoid too much contact with people suffering from strep throat until 24 hours after antibiotics are taken.