The role of the tonsils is to produce antibodies and help manufacture white blood cells to fight infections. When the tonsils themselves become infected, they can no longer do their job well. This condition is known as “tonsillitis.” Tonsillitis can affect anyone, but is more common in children between the ages of 3 and 7, because their tonsils are larger.
The main symptom of tonsillitis is inflammation of the throat and ears often accompanied by pain. The following symptoms can also be present:
• White spots or pus in the throat or on the tonsils
• Small, red spots on the roof of the mouth
• Generalized malaise
The pain can vary in intensity and occur mostly when swallowing. At times, young children may not complain of any discomfort, but may refuse to eat due to the pain.
What to watch for
A sore throat can have other common causes, such as pharyngitis (an inflammation of the pharynx) or epiglottitis (an inflammation of the epiglottis, a flap of cartilage at the root of the tongue).
Epiglottitis can be a medical emergency. This is why it’s important to know the difference between tonsillitis and epiglottitis. If you note the following symptoms, see a doctor right away:
• Extreme difficulties in breathing
• Difficulty swallowing
• High fever
Tonsillitis can be caused by several factors. Here are the most frequent:
• Group A streptococcus – These common bacteria cause throat infections in one out of five people. They account for a great many cases of tonsillitis.
• Respiratory viruses – Some viruses, particularly cold and flu viruses, are responsible for many cases of tonsillitis.
• Infectious mononucleosis – Caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, this disease often leads to symptoms that are similar to those of tonsillitis.
Most cases of tonsillitis will resolve on their own, without treatment. However, if it is due to a streptococcus infection, confirmed by a swab test, antibiotics may be needed. Antibiotics can also be prescribed to prevent subsequent infections and complications. In the past, the surgical removal of the tonsils (tonsillectomy) was the main course of treatment for children. Today, it is a last resort.
Other medications and measures can be used to ease the symptoms of tonsillitis. For example, pain and fever can be managed with a pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Before taking any over-the-counter drug, talk to your pharmacist. He or she can recommend the product that will best serve in your situation and give you advice on its proper use for optimal results. Some medications may not be suitable for children or for people with existing health problems or those taking other medications.
Rest, drinking plenty of water and sucking on ice cubes or frozen treats are other useful ways to help a person with tonsillitis feel better. You can also ask your family pharmacist for more helpful tips!
If you have additional questions about tonsillitis, remember that you can always consult your family pharmacist for answers!