Tonsillitis: Signs and Symptoms for Children and Adults

How to Spot the Signs of Tonsillitis

Your tonsils play a vital role in your immune system by fighting infections in your body. Situated at the back of your throat, one on each side, these masses of lymphatic tissue are called tonsils. When they get infected, the condition is known as tonsillitis. Tonsillitis is most common in children aged 5-15. Almost every child will develop it once. In this guide, we will help you learn how to recognize the signs of tonsillitis so that you can seek medical help when needed.

The Facts about Tonsillitis

When pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, or fungi enter through your mouth, the tonsils act as the first line of defense for your immune system. This makes them highly susceptible to infections. However, their importance in the immune system decreases after puberty, which is why cases of tonsil infections are relatively infrequent in adults.

Viruses, such as the common cold, usually cause tonsil infections. Bacteria cause only 15-30% of cases, with Streptococcus pyogenes being the most common bacterium responsible. Infection can be contracted through inhalation of aerosolized droplets or touching contaminated surfaces. Close contact with many individuals increases the risk of infection, as is the case with children in daycare or primary school.

Common symptoms include:

• Swollen tonsils
• Patches of yellow and white on the tonsils
• Painful sore throat
• Distorted voice
• Headache
• Fever
• Enlarged lymph nodes
• Challenging or hurtful swallowing
• Stomach pain
• Stiff and painful neck
• Foul breath

If you have a newborn or child who’s incapable of conveying how they feel, indications of tonsillitis include:

• Drooling due to painful swallowing
• Rejecting food
• Elevated fussiness

If your child is experiencing sore throat accompanied by fever, persistent soreness for more than 48 hours, or pronounced weakness or lethargy. It is recommended that you promptly contact your doctor. This is especially important given that such symptoms could indicate an underlying medical situation that mandates medical attention.

Tonsillitis Diagnosis

When a child presents with possible tonsillitis symptoms, an ENT will perform a series of diagnostic tests to find the underlying cause.

• They will perform a physical examination to look for signs of infection in the ears, nose, throat, and lymph nodes.
• They will take a sterile throat swab and check for streptococcal bacteria presence.
• They should take a blood sample and complete a blood count to determine if your child has a viral or bacterial infection. The result affects treatment options.

Tonsillitis Treatments

If your child is diagnosed with tonsillitis caused by bacterial infection, a course of antibiotics, typically penicillin, will be prescribed for ten days. In instances where penicillin is not suitable due to allergic reactions, an alternative medication can be prescribed by a qualified physician. The entire course of medication must be completed, even if the child shows signs of improvement before the ten-day mark. Failing to finish the complete course of medication can lead to complications, including a possible exacerbation of the infection.

If a viral infection is the cause of tonsillitis, antibiotics won’t be effective. In this case, palliative care is the best option, and your child should fully recover within 7-10 days. Here are a few at-home strategies:

• Drink plenty of fluids; keeping the throat hydrated is critical
• Make use of a humidifier to soften the air
• Sip and nibble on warm liquids and cold treats (i.e., hot chocolate, ice cream pops)-anything that will soothe the throat
• Try to rest

It is now recommended to use child-friendly medications to treat pain and fever. In the past, tonsillectomies were commonly performed to treat tonsillitis and prevent infections. However, a 2018 study revealed that adults with tonsils removed in childhood had increased risks of respiratory and infectious diseases in the long term, possibly due to the tonsils’ role in the immune system. As a result, tonsillectomies are now only performed to treat recurring tonsillitis or bacterial infections that do not respond to antibiotic treatment.

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