Tonsillitis means inflammation of the tonsils. It is usually infectious. Tonsillitis should not be confused with pharyngitis, which involves an inflammation of the pharynx but not the tonsils.
Tonsillitis is a common disease. It particularly affects children, teenagers and young adults, ages 5 to 10 and 15 to 25.
Tonsils are lymph nodes located in the back of the mouth, on top of the throat. Their main purpose is to prevent bacteria, viruses and other harmful microorganisms from infecting the other parts of the body. Therefore, tonsils can considered as the body’s own protective shield.
Tonsillitis can be acute or chronic. Acute tonsillitis is much more common than the other kind.
Causes and symptoms of tonsillitis
Tonsillitis is mainly caused by infections, which can be viral or bacterial. Oftentimes tonsils become inflamed, swollen and painful as a result of the spreading of a throat infection, the one including the pharynx or the larynx. Basically any throat infection, characterized by sore throat, can lead to tonsillitis.
Of all the bacterial causes of tonsillitis, strep throat seems to be the most common one. Strep throat is a throat infection caused by Group A Streptococcus bacteria.
Symptoms of tonsillitis include swelling of the tonsils, with redness and white spots of pus on them, pain, difficulty swallowing due to inflammation, earache, headache, fever and hoarse voice.
Treatment for acute tonsillitis
Antibiotics are the usual treatment option for bacterial acute tonsillitis. Since antibiotics should not be taken for granted and prescribed whenever a person has a sore throat or swollen tonsils, it is important to do a bacterial culture test to determine the presence of the bacteria. Antibiotics can be given as a single shot, several shots or in form of tablets or capsules for oral use. Oral antibiotics should be taken for at least ten consecutive days. If the treatment with antibiotics is interrupted before it is completed, the infection may come back again.
Drinking cold liquids, such as water or juice, and sucking on popsicles can help relieve the pain and swelling of the tonsils. Warm, not hot beverages are also recommended. Gargling with salt water is very beneficial for any kind of sore throat, including tonsillitis.
Lozenges containing Benzocaine or similar ingredients can relieve the pain and drugs like Tylenol, ibuprofen and Aspirin can be taken to reduce the fever. It is important to remember not to give Aspirin to children, because of the risk of Reye syndrome.