Overview – What is it?
Tonsils are the two masses of tissue in the throat. Their function is to filter germs that can enter into the airways and cause infection. They also produce antibodies that fight infection. However, the tonsils can also become infected causing tonsillitis. Tonsillitis refers to a condition that involves swelling of the tonsils due to bacteria or viruses.
Pain in the throat, headache, loss of appetite and fever are some of the symptoms caused by tonsillitis. Antibiotics are commonly used in the treatment for tonsillitis, especially that caused by bacteria. Maintaining good hygiene, not smoking around children and avoiding contact with people who have active infections are some of the ways to prevent tonsillitis.
Causes – What causes it?
Tonsillitis can be brought about by bacteria, most commonly the streptococcus bacteria, or viruses such as the influenza virus, herpes simplex virus and adenoviruses. The 2 main types of tonsillitis are:
- Recurrent tonsillitis: This involves having multiple episodes of acute tonsillitis in a year.
- Chronic tonsillitis: This lasts longer than acute tonsillitis and includes other symptoms like bad breath, chronic sore throat and tender lymph nodes in the neck.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
Apart from swelling of the tonsils, there are other symptoms that a person with tonsillitis can get, which are:
- Pain in the throat
- Having a white or yellow coating on the tonsils
- Redness of the tonsils
- Loss of appetite
- Swelling of the glands
- Ear pain
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing
- Bad breath
Children can also experience:
- Nausea, and
- Pain in the abdomen
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
- Initial Consultation: The doctor finds out the patient’s medical history and examines the throat and neck to check for redness or white spots on the tonsils or swelling of the lymph nodes. The doctor will then request that other tests be done to confirm the cause of the tonsillitis; whether from bacteria or viruses.
- Rapid strep test: This test is done by taking a sample of fluids from the patient’s throat using a cotton swab to check for the presence of streptococcus bacteria.
- Throat culture: This is done by checking samples of the patient’s throat fluid taken using a cotton swab and tested in a lab for any germs that cause throat infection.
- Complete Blood Cell Count (CBC): This involves testing a sample of blood to check the level of the different components and features of the blood. This test can help in identifying whether it is a bacterial or viral infection and can be used to determine the cause of tonsillitis in a situation where the strep throat lab test turns out negative.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
The treatment of tonsillitis depends on the cause, whether it is from bacteria or virus. These treatments are as follows:
- Antibiotics: These work for tonsillitis that is caused by bacteria. The antibiotics can be given as a single shot or taken for 10 days orally. It is important to finish the dose to make sure that the bacteria are gone. Failure to do that can lead to a re-infection.
- Tonsillitis caused by a virus cannot be treated using antibiotics. The body fights away the infection, however, there are things that can be done to make you feel better. These include:
- Getting enough rest
- Gargling with warm salt water
- Eating smooth foods
- Using over-the-counter drugs to relieve pain such as acetaminophen
- Taking lozenges which contain benzocaine
- Taking plenty of fluids
- Making sure you do not stay around people who smoke
- Tonsillectomy: In a case where the tonsillitis keeps re-occurring, tonsillectomy may be necessary. This is surgery done to remove the tonsils. It may also be necessary:
- When the tonsillitis does not get better with antibiotics, and
- When the tonsils are so big that a person has trouble swallowing and breathing.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
To prevent yourself or your child from getting tonsillitis, the following is necessary:
- Stay away from people with active infections
- Keep yourself hydrated
- Do not smoke
- Avoid taking alcohol
- Do not share utensils, food and water bottles with a person who has tonsillitis or other throat infections until the person is completely cured
- Staying away from others, if you have tonsillitis, until you are no longer contagious
- Maintain good hygiene by:
- Washing hands often and especially after coming into contact with someone who has a sore throat,
- Not sharing toothbrushes, and
- Washing and disinfecting surfaces and toys if you have children.