Are you suffering from sore throat with pain and difficulty in swallowing, yet again? It could be more than just a seasonal throat infection this time. Although majorly seen in children, recurring throat infection can occur in adults as well and may lead to tonsillitis, inflammation of the tonsils.
Tonsils are glandular, soft, red lumps that can be seen at the back of the throat. They are a part of the human immune system and are made up of tissues that help the body to defend itself against various disease causing germs that gain entry into the body through throat and the upper respiratory system. Sometimes, in the process of providing protection to the body by attacking the entering bacteria and viruses, the tonsils can themselves get infected and inflamed.
Tonsillitis simply refers to the inflammation of tonsils usually caused by a viral infection or rarely due to bacterial infection. Tonsillitis caused by a viral infection may be contagious depending on whether or not the individual has been previously exposed to that particular virus. For example, mononucleosis, a viral cause of sore throat, is contagious when an individual is first time exposed to the virus.
It is a common assumption that only children suffer from tonsillitis. But, that’s not true. The reason why tonsillitis is more commonly seen in children is because their immune mechanism is not fully developed as in adults. This makes them more vulnerable to infections. Curing tonsillitis once during childhood does not mean that it cannot occur again.
Poor hygiene and weak immune system alone can be good opportunities for bacteria and viruses to colonize the tonsils.
Here are the most common symptoms associated with tonsillitis:
- Sore throat
- Fever and chills
- Pus-filled areas on the tonsils
- Swollen glands under the jaw
- Trouble in swallowing
- Bad breath
Once you visit a doctor, a physical examination will be performed to analyze the severity of symptoms. Occasionally, for detailed diagnosis the doctor will take a throat swab for a laboratory analysis of the infection. A blood test may be recommended to confirm whether you have glandular fever. A complete cell blood count (CBC) may be required to determine the cause of tonsillitis, whether it is bacterial or viral.
Generally, people go for home remedies such as drinking warm water, gargling with salt water or taking over-the-counter pain killers, such as acetaminophen, to get rid of throat infections. This approach might help to manage a few symptoms only for a short period of time. However, if symptoms persist it is advisable to see a doctor. Read more about Remedies for throat infection
For bacterial tonsillitis, the doctor usually prescribes a course of antibiotics. Penicillin is the most common antibiotic used to treat bacterial tonsillitis caused by Streptococcus bacteria. Even when symptoms disappear completely before the completion of course of prescribed antibiotics, the course should be continued to ensure that the infection is eliminated completely. In case of viral tonsillitis, antibiotic treatment turns out to be ineffective. Therefore, symptomatic treatment is considered, where corticosteroids may be administered intravenously to reduce the swelling and a nasal airway device may be used to mange obstructive breathing.
A surgery for the removal of tonsils (tonsillectomy) is not always required. Mostly, doctors recommended tonsillectomy when swelling and inflammation of tonsils obstructs breathing at nights and causes painful swallowing due to over enlargement of tonsils or when the tonsils start bleeding and the infection cannot be cured by medical treatment. Tonsillectomy is also recommended if there are recurrent episodes of tonsillitis. Therefore, the type of tonsillitis, severity of symptoms and the response to antibiotics are the main deciding factors for considering tonsillectomy.
Tonsillectomy: The procedure
Tonsillectomy is still the simplest surgical procedure performed worldwide. Before performing tonsillectomy, the doctor ensures that the patient is given prescribed antibiotics to control infection before the surgery.
The surgery is carried out under general anesthesia. It is performed by clamping the tonsils with special surgical instruments and removing or cutting the glandular tissue inside the skin lining using a scalpel or a pair of scissors. Removal can also be carried out using laser or electric current (electrocautery). The tonsils are then removed ensuring that each tonsil pad has sufficient blood supply to reduce the risk of hemorrhage. The patient is expected to get discharged within two days after the surgery.
Things you should know after tonsillectomy:
- Do not smoke or perform rigorous exercise
- Do not take any medication without consulting the doctor
- Avoid going to crowded areas to reduce the risk of infections
- If pain flares up after discharge, immediately visit the doctor
- Complications of excessive bleeding may occur within a week of surgery
Remember that removal of tonsils does not affect the ability of the immune system to fight against disease-causing germs. It has been well-known that with increasing age the tonsils shrink in size and become less important as the body’s defense organ. The body gradually acquires other means of fighting infection. Therefore, removal of tonsils will not hamper the body’s immune mechanism.
Due to a developing immune mechanism, children are more susceptible to tonsillitis and in such phases, prevention is always better than cure. For children, following healthy hygienic practices is the best way to keep tonsillitis at bay.
Washing hands or disinfecting them with a hand sanitizer, carrying disposable wipes and avoiding contact with sick individuals are few ways to prevent infection. Children should be taught to cover their mouths while sneezing or coughing and to use tissues to wipe their noses. Since, tonsillitis is all about the immunity, it’s better to keep the immune system stronger in order to prevent recurring episodes of tonsillitis.
Consumption of a healthy diet that includes immune-boosting foods can do a lot. Include sources of vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, and zinc sources such as nuts, seeds, cereals in the diet. Adequate water intake is also essential to prevent tonsillitis. Read more about Immune boosting foods
With winter slowly sneaking in, incidences of tonsillitis may reach the peak. Follow the above prevention suggestions and keep yourselves and your children far away from infections.