Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils, two oval-shaped pads of tissue at the back of the throat — one tonsil on each side. Signs and symptoms of tonsillitis include swollen tonsils, sore throat and difficulty swallowing.
Most cases of tonsillitis are caused by infection with a common virus, but a bacterial infection also may cause tonsillitis.
Because appropriate treatment for tonsillitis depends on the cause, it's important to get a prompt and accurate diagnosis. Surgery to remove tonsils, once a common procedure to treat tonsillitis, is usually performed only when tonsillitis occurs frequently, doesn't respond to other treatments or causes serious complications.
Tonsillitis most commonly affects children between preschool ages and the mid-teenage years. Common signs and symptoms of tonsillitis include:
In young children who are unable to describe how they feel, signs of tonsillitis may include:
When to see a doctor
Call your doctor if your child is experiencing:
Get immediate care if your child:
Tonsillitis is most often caused by a common cold virus, but other viral and bacterial infections can also be the cause.
The most common bacterium causing tonsillitis is Streptococcus pyogenes, or group A streptococcus, the bacterium that causes most cases of strep throat.
Why do tonsils get infected?
This function may make the tonsils particularly vulnerable to infection and inflammation. However, the tonsil's immune system function declines after puberty — a factor that may account for the rare cases of tonsillitis in adults.
Tonsils are fleshy pads located at each side of the back of the throat. ...
Risk factors for tonsillitis include:
Inflammation or swelling of the tonsils from frequent or ongoing (chronic) tonsillitis can cause complications such as:
Preparing for your appointment
If your child is experiencing a sore throat, difficulty swallowing or other symptoms that may indicate tonsillitis, you'll likely start with a visit to your family doctor or your child's pediatrician. You may be referred to a specialist in ear, nose and throat (ENT) disorders (otolaryngologist).
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions about your child's condition. Be prepared to answer the following questions:
Questions you may want to ask your doctor include the following:
Tests and diagnosis
Your child's doctor will start with a physical exam that will include:
If the rapid, in-clinic test comes back positive, then your child almost certainly has a bacterial infection. If the test comes back negative, then your child likely has a viral infection. Your doctor will wait, however, for the more reliable, out-of-clinic lab test to determine the cause of the infection.
Complete blood cell count (CBC)
Treatments and drugs
If a virus is the expected cause of tonsillitis, these strategies are the only treatment. Your doctor won't prescribe antibiotics. Your child will likely be better within seven to 10 days.
At-home care strategies to use during the recovery time include the following:
Your child must take the full course of antibiotics as prescribed even if the symptoms go away completely. Failure to take all of the medication as directed may result in the infection worsening or spreading to other parts of the body. Not completing the full course of antibiotics can, in particular, increase your child's risk of rheumatic fever and serious kidney inflammation.
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about what to do if you forget to give your child a dose.
A tonsillectomy may also be performed if tonsillitis results in difficult to manage complications, such as:
Tonsillectomy is usually done as a one-day surgery. That means your child should be able to go home the day of the surgery. A complete recovery usually takes seven to 10 days.
The germs that cause viral and bacterial tonsillitis are contagious. Therefore, the best prevention is to practice good hygiene. Teach your child to:
To help your child prevent the spread of a bacterial or viral infection to others:
Last Updated: 2010-05-11
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