Head & Neck

The First Signs of Tonsillitis

written by CC ENT Team

When your child is complaining about a sore throat, it could be the common cold or early indications of another illness. The first signs of a sore throat don’t necessarily merit a visit to the doctor. But it is important to watch for other symptoms so that medical treatment can be provided if the child has tonsillitis.

Tonsils: What Do They Do?

The tonsils are the oval-shaped areas of tissue located in the back of the throat, with one tonsil on either side. This tissue is important for trapping germs, filtering, and preventing infection by stopping unwanted compounds from entering your airways. The tonsils also help to prevent infection by making antibodies to fight viruses or bacteria.

One common cause of tonsillitis is the Streptococcus bacteria (strep), although other types of bacteria and viruses can lead to tonsil infections. If the tonsils are overwhelmed by illness, the tonsils can become inflamed and swollen – and potentially lead to other symptoms.

Most Common Symptoms of Tonsillitis

The main symptoms that your child has tonsillitis is the inflammation and swelling in the tonsil area. A visual inspection of the back of the throat will show that the tonsils are larger than normal.

Sometimes, the symptoms are severe enough that it is difficult to breathe through the mouth.

Other symptoms of tonsillitis include:

  • Red tonsils
  • Ulcers or blisters on the inside of the throat
  • Fever
  • Tenderness or throat pain
  • Increased pain when swallowing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen glands in the jaw or neck
  • Scratchy voice
  • Ear pain
  • Headache
  • Bad breath

Tonsillitis can affect both adults and children. When children have this illness, other symptoms might occur: vomiting, stomach pain, upset stomach, drooling, not wanting to swallow or eat.

3 Types of Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is most common in children. This illness can be classified into three types:

  • Acute Tonsillitis: A sudden onset of symptoms that usually lasts for 3 to 4 days. Sometimes, the symptoms can remain for as long as 2 weeks.
  • Recurrent Tonsillitis: A patient who gets tonsillitis several times a year is often diagnosed with recurrent tonsillitis.
  • Chronic Tonsillitis: When a tonsil infection won’t go away, it is categorized as chronic tonsillitis.

Tonsillitis is most common in school-age children, between the ages of 5 and 15. It is uncommon for infants under the age of 2 to have tonsillitis. The frequent contact with germs among playmates and classmates increases the risk of tonsillitis since the virus or bacteria can be passed from person-to-person.

Diagnosing Tonsillitis

A visit to the doctor because of tonsillitis symptoms will include a physical exam. The doctor will do a visual inspection of the tonsils to assess the size, color, and shape. Other signs of infection might be found in the nose or ears, and the nurse will check for a fever.

Additional tonsillitis tests might be required, such as a throat swab or blood test to determine the type of virus or bacteria that is causing the illness.

Should You Visit a Doctor for Tonsillitis?

Sometimes, tonsillitis will go away within a few days, so it might not be necessary to visit a doctor right away. Rest, fluids, and at-home care are important to help the body fight the infection. This illness can be unpleasant and uncomfortable, but it is rarely a major concern. Most of the time, the symptoms will go away within 7 – 10 days, with or without medical treatment.

Pay attention to the symptoms so you can seek medical care if any of the following symptoms are present:

  • High fever
  • Breathing problems
  • Breathing that starts and stops while sleeping (obstructive sleep apnea)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Infection that spreads to surrounding tissue
  • Visible pus around the tonsils
  • White spots on the tonsils (could be an indication of a strep infection)
  • Sore throat that lasts longer than 2 days
  • Fussiness (for babies and children)

Keep in mind that bacterial tonsillitis can sometimes lead to complications or a secondary infection. These complications might include a middle ear infection, breathing problems, or pus in the tonsil area.

Treatment Options for Tonsillitis

If the ENT determines a positive diagnosis of tonsillitis, then treatment recommendations can be discussed. It is important to determine the cause of the infection to identify the optimal treatment plan. Bacterial tonsillitis can be treated using antibiotics, usually in the form of pills that are swallowed for several days.

Antibiotics don’t help with viral infections, so you will need to wait it out. At-home remedies can be used to support the immune system and alleviate the symptoms:

  • Use a cool-mist humidifier in your bedroom
  • Warm salt water gargle
  • Get plenty of rest and sleep
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Eat soft, cold foods such as ice cream, gelatin, and applesauce
  • Use throat-numbing over-the-counter medication, such as lozenges or a throat spray
  • If needed, over-the-counter pain relievers can be used, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen

When is Tonsillectomy Surgery Required?

When recurring or chronic tonsillitis is a problem, then you might be referred to talk to a surgeon about a tonsillectomy surgery. There are certain situations when a tonsillectomy is best because the swollen tonsils are interfering with the ability to eat or breathe, or the infection is spreading and difficult to treat. Your doctor will discuss surgery in detail and options for management. Tonsillectomy can often be performed as outpatient surgery, but younger children or patients with obstructive sleep apnea may be monitored overnight in the hospital. 

Recommendation: Visit an ENT for Tonsillitis Treatment

It is always smart to consult with an experienced doctor to determine the proper diagnosis and potential treatments that might be needed.

We offer convenient access to board-certified ENT doctors, ready to help with a variety of medical concerns. If you have a sore throat and swollen tonsils, then you are invited to visit us at Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat. An appointment is recommended if your symptoms are recurring or chronic, so a treatment plan can be identified to minimize problems in the future.

Our experienced staff provides easy access so you can visit an ENT in the Denton or Dallas area. Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat is just a phone call away. Contact our team to schedule an exam at our offices in Frisco or Plano, TX by requesting an appointment online or by calling us at (972) 596-4005

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