There are two lumps of tissue at the back of your throat called tonsils, and there is one on each side. Tonsils filter and trap germs that could go into your airways and cause infection. Your tonsils also produce antibodies to combat infections. For some people, their tonsils get overwhelmed by bacteria or viruses and become infected themselves.
What Is Tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis is the medical term for inflammation of the tonsils.
What Causes Tonsillitis?
Tonsils are a form of protection against contracting illnesses. These first-line defenders make white blood cells that assist your body in the fight against infection. Your tonsils fight any bacteria and viruses entering your body via your mouth. Unfortunately, your tonsils are vulnerable to infection from any foreign intruders.
Tonsillitis could be caused by a virus, like the common cold, or from a bacterial infection, such as streptococcus (strep throat). Other causes of tonsillitis include:
Adenoviruses: a group of common viruses
Influenza virus: also known as “the flu”
Epstein-Barr virus: also known as human herpesvirus 4
Parainfluenza viruses: a group of viruses also known as HPIVs
Enteroviruses: a group of viruses that have a transmission-route through the intestine
Herpes simplex virus: also known as oral or genital herpes
Viruses are the most common cause of tonsillitis. About 15% to 30% of the cases of tonsillitis are caused by bacteria, and in these cases, it’s mostly due to strep bacteria.
What Are the Symptoms of Tonsillitis?
- Throat inflammation
- A very sore or tender throat
- White or yellow coating or spots on the tonsils
- Tonsils look red and swollen
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing
- Painful blisters or ulcers on the throat
- Scratchy voice
- Difficulty breathing through the mouth
- Bad breath
- Ear pain
- Loss of appetite
- A stiff neck
- Swollen glands in the neck or jaw area
- Tender jaw or neck from swollen lymph nodes
How Is Tonsillitis Diagnosed?
Your doctor determines if you or your child have tonsillitis by conducting a physical examination of the throat. In addition, your physician may take a throat culture by gently swabbing the back of the throat and sending the swab to a laboratory to obtain the cause of infection.
How Is Tonsillitis Treated?
If your doctor determines the cause of tonsillitis is bacterial, a course of antibiotics may be prescribed to fight the infection. If the cause is a virus, there is no medicine to treat it. If it’s determined it’s a case of severe tonsillitis, your doctor may recommend removing the tonsils with a procedure known as a tonsillectomy.
In the past, tonsillectomies were common procedures, but today tonsillectomies are only recommended for people with a history of chronic or recurrent tonsillitis. Surgery is also the best option when tonsillitis treatment doesn’t produce good results or tonsillitis causes complications. Overly large tonsils that block breathing or make swallowing difficult may also require surgery.
A tonsillectomy procedure is an outpatient surgery performed under general anesthesia. In general, individuals go home the same day after about six hours. In some cases, such as people who have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), they stay overnight for monitoring while they sleep.
If you or your child is experiencing tonsillitis, the first step towards feeling better is scheduling an evaluation with a highly experienced ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor. Board certified physicians with New York ENT have the expertise in diagnosing and treating a wide variety of neck and throat conditions, including tonsillitis. Please fill out the form on this page or call our office at 212-873-6036 to schedule an appointment today.