Tonsillitis, an inflammation of the tonsils due to infection, affects over a million children and adults each year. The vast majority of cases occur in children between the ages of 5 and 15. Tonsillitis is a contagious disease that is spread in the same manner as a cold or flu – by coming into contact with a contaminated surface area or an infected person’s germs via a sneeze or cough.
The tonsils, along with the adenoids, are part of the lymphatic system and together these glands protect us from inhaled and ingested contaminants. Sometimes, however, the glands themselves become infected by viruses or bacteria.
Symptoms of Tonsillitis
Tonsillitis can cause many of the same or similar symptoms as other ears, nose, and throat conditions (e.g. – strep throat, ear infections, the common cold, etc.). These symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Pain or difficulty swallowing
- Swelling of the tonsils or lymph nodes
- Sudden, unexplainable ear pain
- A sore throat with a fever of 101 or higher
- Unexplained bouts of coughing
The vast majority of tonsillitis symptoms merely cause discomfort and the condition itself is rarely serious. Complications of bacterial tonsillitis (tonsillitis caused by bacteria) can, in some cases, give rise to more serious threats such as peritonsillar abscess, glomerulonephritis, or rheumatic fever, to name a few.
Treatment of Tonsillitis
Treatment of tonsillitis depends largely on such factors as the age of the individual with the disease, the severity of the condition, and the cause – whether bacterial or viral. There is no standard treatment for tonsillitis. Many of the measures taken during treatment will be aimed at alleviating the symptoms of discomfort – sore throat, headache, fever, ear pain, etc.
Whether the infection is caused by bacteria or a virus, the body’s immune system will usually rid itself of the infection within four to seven days. If the infection is bacterial in nature a 10-day course of an antibiotic such as penicillin, erythromycin, or roxithromycin may be prescribed to get rid of the infection. Because antibiotics can cause unpleasant side effects such as stomach ache, rash, or diarrhea; and because their use poses some risk of developing antibiotic-resistant bacteria, they will not always be prescribed in children. Because of this potential risk, antibiotics should always be taken exactly as prescribed for the full course of treatment, regardless of how you or your child may feel
Other than antibiotic treatment, palliative measures would likely be the same for both a bacterial or viral infection, and may include the following:
- Ensuring that children have plenty of soothing liquids and soft foods to prevent dehydration and ease swallowing
- Using over-the-counter pain killers such as Ibuprofen or Paracetamol (especially for children), lozenges, and oral sprays to combat sore throat
- Gargling with salt water (1/2 tsp salt to 8 oz water) or a mild antiseptic solution
- The use of humidifiers or vaporizers
Age-related precautions to observe involve giving certain over-the-counter medications to children under the age of 16. In general, they should not be given aspirin during this time due to the possibility of contracting Reyes Syndrome, which can be fatal. Also, be careful when giving children over-the-counter cold or pain-killing remedies as dosages need to be age – and sometimes weight-appropriate. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before giving these medications.
A common consequence of tonsillitis is the development of tonsilloliths, of tonsil stones as they are commonly called. Though the exact mechanism of their formation is often debated, tonsil stones develop in an environment that includes bacterial infection, food particles, mucous, and other inhaled or ingested contaminants. These particles get trapped in the folds and crevices of the tonsils and they calcify, forming small whitish stones. The bacterial action on the food particles produces sulfur by-products which are responsible for the bad breath (halitosis) that often accompanies tonsil stones.
Tonsil Stone Treatment
Though harmless in and of themselves, tonsil stones can be problematic on several levels. Their presence leads to halitosis and having a bad taste in the mouth, and, as they grow in size and number, they can cause physical discomfort. As tonsil stones are a product of infection, good oral hygiene is the first place to start in treatment or prevention,
Many home remedies exist to deal with tonsil stones. These treatments center around either counteracting the symptoms of tonsil stones or removing the stones themselves. A good deal of treatment involves combating the bad breath that surrounds having tonsil stones. Numerous products on the market offer help in this area, including oral sprays, lozenges, special oxygenated toothpaste, grape seed extract, oral antiseptics, tonsil stone “kits,” postnasal drip prevention products, and even gargling with plain salt water. Again the goal is to eliminate as many infectious agents as possible and promote a clean, healthy oral cavity.
Tonsil stone removal is often done by both professionals and individuals at home. If stones are a recurrent issue or their size presents a problem, you may opt for removal. Do-it-yourself methods for removing tonsil stones typically involve using implements such as long cotton swabs or water picks (oral irrigators) to manually remove the formations from the tonsils. Working in a limited space and dealing with the gag reflex are obstacles to this method, though the stones are successfully removed by many in this way.
If your tonsillitis is severe enough or recurs more than four times a year, you may opt to have the tonsils removed. This obviously represents a permanent solution to the issue of tonsil stones. Your tonsils perform important immunological functions, however, and it would be best to keep them to the extent possible. Most tonsil stones will subside with tonsillitis infections and need not be physically removed.