Tonsil infections are a common childhood malady, bringing pain and discomfort to many children between the ages of five and 15. The result of inflamed tonsils, the condition – known as tonsillitis – is most often caused by a viral or bacterial infection.
What Causes Tonsil Infections?
The tonsils are a pair of oval-shaped tissues in the back of the throat. They protect the body from infection by trapping bacteria and germs, preventing them from entering the airways. In addition, they produce antibodies to fight infection. As the immune system’s first line of defense, the tonsils come into frequent contact with germs, making them prone to infection themselves.
Viruses and bacteria, especially the Streptococcus bacterium (responsible for strep throat), are the most common causes of tonsillitis. Other causes include adenoviruses, influenza, Epstein-Barr virus, enteroviruses, and herpes simplex virus.
What Are the Symptoms of Tonsil Infections?
Sore throat and swollen, inflamed tonsils that may appear red with a white or yellow coating are the most recognizable symptoms of tonsil infection. Other signs include blisters on the throat, swollen glands in the neck or jaw, difficulty swallowing, fever, headache, chills, fatigue, ear pain, and bad breath.
How Are Tonsil Infections Treated?
Diagnosing a tonsil infection requires a physical examination and an in-depth exam of the throat and ears with an otoscope. Your child is likely to be given a throat swab to test for the presence of strep, as well.
In the past, the treatment method of choice was surgical removal of the tonsils. This procedure, known as a tonsillectomy, was practically a rite of passage for generations, but in recent years doctors tend to take a more conservative approach thanks to skepticism over the effectiveness of this approach. It is now reserved for chronic cases that do not respond to other forms of medical treatment.
Instead, home remedies are usually recommended for tonsil infections caused by a virus. Your child should get plenty of rest and stay hydrated with fluids. Warm broth or tea, and cold Popsicles, are particularly effective at soothing pain and discomfort.
Pain and fever can be controlled with over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen (but avoid aspirin, which can be harmful in children). Throat lozenges or cough drops can be given to children over the age of four.
When a tonsil infection is the result of strep throat or another bacterial infection, your child’s doctor will prescribe antibiotics. Be sure to take the full course of treatment to prevent symptoms from recurring.