Tonsil infection is a common childhood ailment that is most often the result of a virus or bacteria. Swollen, inflamed tonsils cause pain and a variety of cold-like symptoms, and are most common in patients between 5 and 15 years of age.
The tonsils are a group of tissues in the rear of the throat that protect the airways from infection by filtering harmful germs and bacteria before they reach the bronchial passages. Sometimes the tonsils themselves fall prey to infection from the very germs they are fighting. This causes swelling and inflammation and is known as tonsillitis.
Signs of tonsil infection include red and swollen tonsils that may have spots of coloring on them, usually white, yellow, or gray. Symptoms include sore throat, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, fever, swollen glands, stiff neck, headache, stomachache, and bad breath. Children may be more irritable than usual, and experience an increase in drooling. Often, they refuse food.
The same bacterium responsible for tonsillitis also causes strep throat in simultaneously in many patients.
Treating a Tonsil Infection
In order to diagnose a tonsil infection, your child’s doctor will perform a physical examination and inspect the throat, ears, and nose with an instrument called an otoscope. A throat swab may be given in conjunction with the exam in order to test for the presence of streptococcus bacteria responsible for strep throat.
Treatment at home is both beneficial and effective at managing the symptoms of tonsillitis. Your child should receive plenty of rest and fluids. Some particularly helpful foods and beverages for soothing relief include warm broth or bouillon, tea, Popsicles, Jell-O, ice cream, and applesauce. Throat lozenges are helpful, but shouldn’t be given to children younger than 4. Have your child gargle with warm saltwater periodically. Over-the-counter drugs for pain relief, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, can be given as needed, but refrain from giving your child aspirin, which has been linked to a sometimes-fatal condition called Reye’s syndrome.
If the tonsil infection is accompanied by strep throat, your child will receive a course of antibiotics. Make sure the full dose is given, even if symptoms show improvement, to prevent a recurrence.
A tonsillectomy is a surgical procedure in which the tonsils are removed. Once commonplace, this practice is now usually reserved for only serious or chronic tonsil infections.