Tonsils are important organs that are situated at the posterior region of your throat. These two tissues act as filters of immune system that trap microbes or germs. This function of tonsils blocks the toxic or unwanted substances from entering the air passages and prevents infection by producing antibodies. One should know what are the causes and treatments of tonsillitis.
But many times tonsils themselves get infected due to pathogenic bacteria or viruses leading to a condition called as tonsillitis in which they become inflamed, red and edematous. This problem of tonsils is usually seen in children, may be due to weak immune system. This condition of tonsils may or may not be contagious, and it depends on the viral or bacterial infection and person’s susceptibility.
The inflammation of tonsils is known as tonsillitis, which can be acute or acute exacerbation of chronic, or chronic.
- Acute –
Sudden or gradual onset of pain in throat, which is usually accompanied by fever is known as acute tonsillitis. It is an acute infection caused due to certain bacteria or viruses. The tonsils appear red and grayish-white coating with swollen lymph nodes in the neck region. A person may find difficulty in swallowing food or liquids (dysphagia) associated with constant drooling, bad breath, and throat and ear pain.
- Chronic –
Persistent bacterial or vital infection of the tonsils is known as chronic tonsillitis. Recurrent infection leads to formation of crypts (small pockets) in the tonsils which contain bacteria or viruses. Because of these crypts, small, offensive stones (tonsilloliths) are found, which causes halitosis (bad breath). A person may feel as if something is caught firmly in the throat.
What are the causes of tonsillitis?
The most common pathogenic bacterium that affects tonsils is Streptococcus. Chronic strep tonsillitis may lead to secondary infection that affects kidneys and heart valves causing glomerulonephritis and rheumatic fever respectively. In advance cases, it can lead to sinusitis, ear infections, skin rashes and pneumonia.
Mononucleosis is an acute condition of tonsils that is caused by a specific virus, which is characterized by severe throat infection with clinical features of enlarged tonsils, lymph nodes and adenoids associated with extreme fatigue and weakness.
Viruses that cause inflammation of tonsils are –
- Epstein-Barr virus
- Herpes simplex virus
- Influenza virus
- Para-influenza virus
Treatments available for tonsillitis –
Once you notice pain and tenderness in throat, hoarseness of voice, ear ache, difficulty in swallowing, bad breath, fever with chills and constant headache; you should consult your physician for proper management. Your doctor will examine your tonsils by palpating your neck and other investigations to diagnose tonsillitis. Your treatment for this condition of tonsils depends on the cause and intensity of the infection. To assess the cause, your healthcare professional may ask you to undergo strep test or sputum (throat swab) culture to detect bacterial infection. However, these tests may not reveal the virus but may help you in determining the infection.
In case of bacterial infection, your doctor will prescribe your specific antibiotics. It is important to complete the course of antibiotic to cure the infection. Few people may require second course of anti-bacterial treatment in case of recurrent or severe cases.
In case of viral infection, antibiotics are of no use, but your body’s immunity will fight against the infection. In such cases, you can follow few things to relieve your infection, such as –
- Drink warm fluids to ease the pain
- You can eat smooth foodstuffs like applesauce or ice cream
- Take steam inhalation
- Gargle with warm saline water
- Use pain killers, if necessary
- Use lozenges that contain anesthetics
- Get adequate amount of rest
In case or persistent or frequent tonsillitis, or enlarged tonsils (causing blockage in air passages, or dysphagia); your doctor may remove your tonsils through surgical procedure, which is called as tonsillectomy. Due to advanced technology in medical field, tonsils are also removed by using alternative techniques, such as lasers, ultra-sonic energy, radio waves, and electrocautery. However, there are benefits and few drawbacks of using these alternative methods; hence one should consult their physician before considering any of these procedures for appropriate treatment.