Tonsillitis (tahn-suh-LYE-tus) is an infection of the tonsils. Tonsils are lumps
of tissue on both sides of the back of the throat that help the immune
system protect the body from infections. Inflamed tonsils get red and swollen
and can cause a sore throat.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Tonsillitis?
Inflamed tonsils look red and swollen, and may be covered with a yellow or whitish
coating or spots. A child with tonsillitis may have:
If the rapid strep test doesn't show signs of strep, the health care provider will
depend on the culture for a final diagnosis.
It's important to call your health care provider if your child has tonsillitis
How Is Tonsillitis Treated?
Treatment depends on whether the tonsillitis is caused by:
a virus, in which case the body will fight the infection on its own
bacteria, in which case the doctor will prescribe an antibiotic. Help your child
take the antibiotic exactly as directed. This helps symptoms clear up quickly and
prevents spreading the infection to others.
It's important to finish the
entire prescription — even if your child feels better in a few days — or the infection
could come back. This also helps prevent a more serious health problem that streptococcus
can cause, called rheumatic fever, which can damage the heart.
Rarely, a health care provider might recommend a tonsillectomy
(surgery to remove the tonsils) if a child's tonsils get infected a lot or are so
big they make it hard to breathe at night. Tonsillectomy used to be very commonly
done. Now, experts use guidelines to decide if tonsil removal is the best treatment.
In general, tonsillectomy may be considered if a child has seven sore throat episodes
in 1 year, five episodes 2 years in a row, or three episodes 3 years in a row.
How Can I Help My Child Feel Better?
Make sure that your child drinks lots of fluids and gets plenty of rest. If swallowing
hurts, serve liquids and soft foods. Some kids prefer warm drinks, like soup or sweetened
tea. Other kids like the feel of cold or frozen foods on their throat, such as milkshakes,
smoothies, ice pops, or ice cream. Older kids can suck on hard candies or throat lozenges.
You can give a pain reliever, such as acetaminophen
or ibuprofen, for throat pain.
Don't give aspirin or other products that contain aspirin, though, because these can
put kids at risk for Reye syndrome.
Is Tonsillitis Contagious?
Tonsillitis is contagious. Sneezing and coughing can pass the germ
causing the illness from one person to the next.
Can Tonsillitis Be Prevented?
Try to keep kids away from anyone who already has tonsillitis or a sore throat,
and make sure everyone in your family washes
their hands well and often.
If someone in the family has tonsillitis, keep their drinking glasses and eating
utensils separate, and wash them in hot, soapy water. They should not share food,
drinks, napkins, or towels with other family members. Give them a new toothbrush after
they're treated and no longer contagious.
What Else Should I Know?
If the sore throat gets worse, especially on one side, call your doctor. This could
be a sign of a peritonsillar
abscess. This happens when bacteria spread from the tonsil to the space around
it and fill it with pus. Other signss of an abscess include fever, headache, earache,
drooling, or a muffled voice. Treating an abscess might be done in a hospital,
possibly with surgery to drain the infection. Tonsillectomy may be considered for
kids who get multiple peritonsillar abscesses.