Tonsil Infections are a common childhood malady. Surgery to remove the tonsils was once almost a rite of passage, but nowadays the condition is likely to be treated medically, with surgical removal (tonsillectomy) reserved for the most severe or chronic cases.
What Causes Tonsil Infection?
The tonsils are a group of soft tissues, similar to the lymph nodes, located in the back of the throat. They defend the body from infection by producing antibodies that fight off germs and bacteria, but can become inflamed and irritated themselves. This condition is known as a tonsil infection, or tonsillitis.
When bacteria or viruses invade the tonsils they cause them to swell, leading to infection. Viral infections are often to blame; colds, influenza, adenovirus, rhinovirus, and others can all cause a tonsil infection. When bacteria are involved, the usual culprit is the group A streptococcus bacterium, which causes strep throat.
What are the Symptoms of Tonsillitis?
The main signs of tonsillitis are pain in the neck and a sore throat. Other symptoms may include fever, swollen lymph nodes, tonsils that are reddish in color with white or gray spots on them, bad breath, and difficulty swallowing. Your child may display signs of increased irritability or crying.
To test for tonsil infection, your child’s pediatrician will give him or her a physical exam that includes a through inspection of the ears, nose, throat, and lymph nodes. A rapid stress test is usually performed to check for strep throat.
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Most tonsil infections are not serious, and clear up within a week. Your child’s doctor will recommend rest and fluids, especially warm liquids like broth and tea, and cold treats such as Popsicles. Gargling with saltwater is a time-honored technique to ease swelling and soothe a sore throat; if your child is older than 4, throat lozenges can be given, as well. Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be used to treat pain. Remember, aspirin should never be given to children as it has been linked to a dangerous condition called Reye’s Syndrome.
For strep throat and other bacterial infections, antibiotics are prescribed.
Surgical removal of the tonsils is an option in children with severe or recurring infections.