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- What is Tonsillitis?
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What is Tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis refers to the inflammation of the pharyngeal tonsils and is the primary cause of sore throats. Your tonsils are a pair of small almond-shaped organs located on each side of your throat, behind and above the tongue. They function together with another set of organs called the adenoids. Although the adenoids are similar to the tonsils, they can be found in the upper portion of the throat behind the nose and cannot be seen.
The tonsils and adenoids are seen as the first line of defense against respiratory infections that enter the body through the nose, mouth and throat. The inflammation of the tonsils may involve other areas of the back of the throat including the adenoids and the lingual tonsils (areas of tonsil tissue at the back of the tongue).
Tonsillitis is most common in children but seldom occurs in children younger than two years of age. Tonsillitis caused by the Streptococcus species of bacteria typically occurs in children between the ages of 5 and 15 years. Viral tonsillitis is more common in children under the age of 5 years. Occasionally, an abscess can develop as a complication of tonsillitis. Abscess development is usually found in young adults but does occasionally occur in children.
There are several types of tonsillitis such as acute, recurrent, chronic, and peritonsillar abscesses.
Signs and Symptoms of Tonsillitis
The symptoms and signs of tonsillitis include:
- Mild or severe sore throat that may develop gradually or suddenly
- Difficulty swallowing food
- Enlarged, tender glands in the jaw and neck
- Loss of voice (laryngitis)
- General aches and pain
- Foul smelling breath (halitosis)
What Causes Tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis occurs when bacteria and viruses enter the body through the nose or mouth. The tonsils are part of the immune system and protect against germs by producing antibodies. These antibodies play an important role in the body’s immune system by attacking bacteria and viruses. However, during this process of protecting the body, the tonsils and adenoids may also become inflamed or infected.
Common viruses and bacteria that can cause tonsillitis include the herpes simplex virus (also responsible for cold sores), Streptococcus pyogenes (GABHS) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), cytomegalovirus, adenovirus, and the measles virus. Most cases of bacterial tonsillitis are caused by GABHS (group A Beta Haemolytic Streptococci).
Your doctor will perform a thorough examination of your ears, nose and throat. The back of the throat and tonsils will be checked for signs of infection such as inflammation, redness or pus. A throat swab may be performed if the tonsils are infected and there are signs of strep throat.
This test will indicate whether streptococcal bacteria are present. If tonsillitis is left untreated, it may lead to the development of an abscess in the tonsils or surrounding tissue. The same Streptococcal bacteria that can cause tonsillitis can also result in kidney inflammation (nephritis) or rheumatic fever.
Help for Tonsillitis
The treatment of tonsillitis usually depends on the type of infection that causes tonsillitis. If tonsillitis is caused by a viral infection, home treatment is usually all that is required. Drink plenty of liquids such as soup or tea to soothe the throat.
Gargling with salt water will also help to get rid of the infection. Medications such as Tylenol and ibuprofen will help to minimize fever and pain. Remember to never give children under the age of 12 years aspirin, as it poses potential life-threatening consequences.
For tonsillitis that is caused by a bacterial infection, the conventional medical treatment involves the use of antibiotics. For antibiotics to be effective, it is important to complete the entire treatment to avoid the risk of recurring infection. The normal course of antibiotics is 5 – 10 days. A tonsillectomy (surgical removal of tonsils) may be required in very severe cases of tonsillitis, if your child has more than seven episodes of tonsillitis in one year, if the swollen tonsils affect breathing or swallowing or if an abscess develops, then a tonsillectomy may be recommended.
However, bear in mind that the tonsils serve an important purpose in the body as the first ‘soldiers’ of defense against infection. Removal of the tonsils should be a last resort as this will leave the throat open to further infection. It is now recognized that routine tonsillectomy is not always the best choice for children and is a now seen as a controversial procedure unless used as a very last resort.
More Information on Tonsillitis
Prevention is best
There are some helpful ways to combat infections such as tonsillitis and they include:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap to prevent the spread of germs.
- Eat healthy, balanced meals that include all the food groups.
- Drink plenty of water to rid the body’s system of unwanted toxins and detox every once in a while.
- Cough and sneeze into a tissue to prevent germs from spreading.
- Do not share personal items such as toothbrushes, drinking glasses or eating utensils with others.
- Avoid close contact with those who are infected with tonsillitis.
- Increase your intake of vitamins to strengthen your immune system.
- Avoid smoking, as this increases the risk of developing tonsillitis, or stop smoking naturally if you are a smoker.