The tonsils — tissues that serve to trap germs and bacteria and prevent infection — are located in the back of the throat. Their constant exposure to germs makes them susceptible to infection themselves. Following puberty, their role as immune system defenders declines significantly; this is why tonsil infections are far more common in children than adults.
Tonsillitis is the name given to a tonsil infection, swelling and inflammation of the tonsils caused by viruses, bacteria, allergies or upper respiratory disorders. In addition to red and swollen tonsils, symptoms include white or yellow patches on the tonsils, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, fever, tender lymph nodes, bad breath, headache and stiff neck. Younger children may be extra irritable, drool excessively and refuse to eat.
Who Gets Tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis most often occurs in children, but rarely in those younger than two years old. Tonsillitis caused by bacteria (streptococcus species) Streptococcus species typically occurs in children aged 5 to 15 years, while viral tonsillitis is more common in younger children. A peritonsillar abscess is usually found in young adults but can occur occasionally in children. The patient’s history often helps identify the type of tonsillitis present (i.e., acute, recurrent, chronic).
What Causes Tonsillitis?
The herpes simplex virus, Streptococcus pyogenes (GABHS), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), cytomegalovirus, adenovirus, and the measles virus cause most cases of acute pharyngitis and acute tonsillitis. Bacteria cause 15-30 percent of pharyngotonsillitis cases; GABHS is the cause for most bacterial tonsillitis. (i.e., “strep throat”).
What Are The Symptoms of Tonsillitis?
The type of tonsillitis determines what symptoms will occur.
- Acute tonsillitis: Patients have a fever, sore throat, foul breath, dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), odynophagia (painful swallowing), and tender cervical lymph nodes. Airway obstruction due to swollen tonsils may cause mouth breathing, snoring, nocturnal breathing pauses, or sleep apnea. Lethargy and malaise are common. These symptoms usually resolve in three to four days, but may last up to two weeks despite therapy.
- Recurrent tonsillitis: This diagnosis is made when an individual has multiple episodes of acute tonsillitis in a year.
- Chronic tonsillitis: Individuals often have chronic sore throat, halitosis, tonsillitis, and persistently tender cervical nodes.
- Peritonsillar abscess: Individuals often have severe throat pain, fever, drooling, foul breath, trismus (difficulty opening the mouth), and muffled voice quality, such as the “hot potato” voice (as if talking with a hot potato in his or her mouth).
How your doctor treats tonsillitis depends on whether a virus or bacteria has caused it. If the infection is viral, it should clear up in a week to ten days, and home remedies should provide some relief. Ensure you get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids (especially warm liquids such as broth or tea with honey).
To soothe your throat, gargle with warm salt water several times a day, eat cold treats such as popsicles and suck on lozenges or cough drops. Avoid cigarette smoke and other irritants. If a bacterial infection such as strep throat is responsible, antibiotics will be administered.
Your doctor may recommend surgical removal of the tonsils (tonsillectomy) if the condition recurs frequently.
Call Dubuque ENT at (563) 588-0506 for more information or to schedule an appointment.