There was a time when having your tonsils removed was virtually a rite of passage when you were growing up, often the first surgery in a young child’s life. Sections of lymph tissue at the sides of the throat behind your tongue, tonsils are the gateway protectors, part of the immune system guarding your mouth.
It’s understood now that inflammation of the tonsils is a normal part of their function and that this infection — called tonsillitis — usually resolves on its own in about a week. However, there are times when this isn’t the case, and further treatment is essential.
An overview of tonsillitis
Infection of the tonsils creates a common range of symptoms. When young children develop the condition, they may have trouble describing them. Typically, youngsters may say their throat or mouth hurts. Difficulty swallowing might lead to drooling from excess saliva. Their mood may be fussy, and they could resist eating for the same reasons.
Other signs include:
- Discoloration of the tonsils, either red or with patches of white and yellow
- Scratchy voice from throat irritation
- Stiff or sore neck, with enlarged and tender lymph glands
- Headache or stomachache
Because the causes of tonsillitis can vary, it’s important to get accurately diagnosed right away.
Causes of tonsillitis
Common viruses are most often behind cases of tonsillitis, and they generally start to improve 4-10 days after symptoms begin. This is the normal reaction of your body fighting a viral infection. There’s generally no way to treat the infection itself, though you can help the symptoms with over-the-counter pain medications, warm drinks, and other traditional home remedies.
When bacteria are responsible for tonsillitis, you are at greater risk of complications from the infection. Antibiotics can speed healing as well as avoid the complications caused by the bacteria.
3 reasons tonsillitis should be treated
While tonsillitis is often an illness that comes and goes like a common cold, there are three compelling reasons to visit Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates to confirm the reasons behind each episode.
Getting the diagnosis correct
There’s no way to determine from symptoms if the infection behind your tonsillitis is caused by a virus or bacteria, and since bacterial infections generally require antibiotics to clear up, diagnosis is important.
Preventing rheumatic fever and kidney inflammation
If a bacterium is causing the infection, finishing a complete course of penicillin or other antibiotic is essential to minimize risk of these complications.
Evaluating chronic tonsillitis
Repeated tonsil infections can pose a significant reduction in quality of life when they happen frequently, so regular observation by an ear, nose, and throat practitioner helps develop coping strategies and surgical interventions, if needed.
Usually, surgery is reserved for people who develop chronic tonsillitis. This is usually defined as:
- More than three infections a year over the last three years
- More than four infections a year over the past two years
- More than seven infections in one year
Tonsil issues can also contribute to other health concerns including obstructive sleep apnea, abscesses, or breathing and eating difficulties. A tonsillectomy may be recommended in these cases as well.
The providers at Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates are experts in the physiology of the throat, so any suspicion of tonsil infection is an ideal time to request an appointment. Call 785-841-1107 to find the most convenient location for you.