Your tonsils are lymph nodes found on either side of the back of your throat. While their primary function is as a defense mechanism against infection, they themselves can get infected. While tonsillitis is most common in children between the ages of 3 and 16, it can affect anyone at any time. At Regional ENT Associates in Gallatin, TN, our passion is for providing quick, accurate diagnoses, effective treatments and realistic prevention plans for all ailments related to the ears, nose and throat.
18 Tonsillitis Relief FAQs Answered
1. What Causes Tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis can be caused by any number of viruses and bacteria. One of the most common causes of tonsillitis is an infection caused by the Streptococcal bacteria, the bacteria also responsible for causing strep throat. Tonsillitis caused by strep throat is one of the most dangerous forms of tonsillitis, as it can lead to serious complications if it goes untreated.
2. Do I Have Tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis can be tricky to diagnose at home because it shares symptoms with other throat conditions. In very young children, common signs of tonsillitis include excessive drooling, increased irritability and a dramatically reduced appetite. In adults, the most common symptoms of tonsillitis include:
- Stiff neck
- Scratchy-sounding voice
- Jaw and neck tenderness
- Red, swollen tonsils
- White or yellow spots on tonsils
- Very sore throat
- Difficult, painful swallowing
3. Do I Have Acute Tonsillitis?
Acute tonsillitis refers to tonsils that are inflamed for no more than 10 days. This condition is the most common type of tonsillitis suffered by children, and tonsillitis relief may be found with a combination of home treatments and antibiotics. However, if symptoms last 11 days or more or come back several times throughout the year, you or a loved one may suffer from chronic or recurrent tonsillitis.
4. Do I Have Chronic Tonsillitis?
Chronic tonsillitis refers to tonsils that are inflamed for longer than 10 days. If you have suffered from a sore throat, bad breath and tender lymph nodes for at least 11 days, there is a good chance that you have chronic tonsillitis.
Chronic tonsillitis will sometimes lead to tonsil stones. These “stones” build up in your tonsils’ crevices and are comprised of food, saliva and dead cells. If they don’t come loose on their own, they will need to be removed by an ENT specialist. If you suffer from chronic tonsillitis, the most effective method of tonsillitis relief is a tonsillectomy.
5. Do I Have Recurrent Tonsillitis?
As with chronic tonsillitis, the most effective form of tonsillitis relief for recurrent tonsillitis is a tonsillectomy. You may have recurrent tonsillitis if you have suffered from tonsillitis or a sore throat at least five to seven times in the past year. Other strong indicators that you have recurrent tonsillitis are suffering from tonsillitis at least five times in each of the past two years or at least three times in each of the past three years.
Research is still ongoing regarding the cause of chronic and recurrent tonsillitis. However, researchers suspect that the cause may be biofilms in your tonsils’ folds. Biofilms are communities of microorganisms that are unusually resistant to antibiotics. A genetic predisposition to a poor immune response to group A streptococcus bacteria may also cause recurrent tonsillitis.
6. When Should I See a Doctor?
Sore throats are so common that it is easy to be complacent. However, there are a few times you should definitely see an ENT doctor right away. These include:
- Fever higher than 103°F
- Neck stiffness
- Difficulty breathing
- Muscle weakness
- Sore throat that lasts longer than two days
7. Is Tonsillitis Contagious?
Unfortunately, tonsillitis is highly contagious. In fact, you can be contagious for 24 to 48 hours before you even experience any symptoms. In most cases, you can spread the illness up until the point you are no longer sick. The most notable exception to this is people who take antibiotics for bacterial tonsillitis. They typically stop being contagious after 24 hours.
8. How Is Tonsillitis Spread?
Tonsillitis is most often spread when someone in your vicinity with the infection sneezes or coughs and you inhale the droplets. However, you can also contract tonsillitis if you touch a doorknob or other contaminated object and then touch your mouth or nose. If you have been diagnosed with tonsillitis, it is important to stay home until you are better, especially if you work with children.
9. How Is Tonsillitis Diagnosed?
A tonsillitis diagnosis starts with a physical examination of your throat. The most obvious signs of tonsillitis are red, swollen tonsils with white or yellow spots on them. Then, your doctor will gently swab the back of your throat to collect a throat culture. This culture is then tested to identify what exactly is causing your throat infection.
Your doctor may also choose to take a sample of your blood to get a complete blood count. The results of this test identify whether your throat infection is bacterial or viral. The type of infection you have plays a significant role in your tonsillitis relief options.
10. How Can I Mitigate My Risk of Getting Tonsillitis?
The most effective way to stop the spread of tonsillitis is to stay home until your symptoms are gone. Wash your hands regularly. Good general hygiene practices will go a long way in keeping your friends and family healthy. Wash your hands before eating and after using the restroom. Do not share personal items, such as spoons, with other people.
Apply hand sanitizer to your hands every time you cough, sneeze or touch your mouth, nose or face. If you feel the urge to cough or sneeze, make sure you do so into the crook of your elbow or a tissue. Promptly dispose of any used tissues. You should also wipe down surfaces in the home that you have touched with a disinfectant wipe.
11. How Is Tonsillitis Treated?
If tonsillitis is caused by a virus such as the common cold, not a lot can be done to treat it. The best you can hope for is symptom relief through at-home remedies. These remedies include:
- Getting plenty of rest
- Drinking lots of fluids
- Gargling with warm salt water every two hours
- Avoiding cigarette smoke
- Taking an NSAID to relieve pain and inflammation
- Using throat lozenges as directed
- Eating frozen foods
- Using a humidifier
If you suffer from bacterial tonsillitis, antibiotics are the most common form of relief. If you suffer from chronic or recurring tonsillitis, a tonsillectomy is often required.
12. What Is a Tonsillectomy?
Tonsillectomy refers to a medical procedure in which the tonsils are removed from the throat. This relief method is usually only recommended for people struggling with recurrent or chronic tonsillitis. Alternatively, it may be recommended if symptoms do not improve with home care or if tonsillitis is causing serious complications.
Although rare, it is possible for your tonsils to grow back after they have been removed. If this occurs and you suffer from tonsillitis again, you may need to have your tonsils removed again. It is also important to note that while a tonsillectomy is a guaranteed method for preventing tonsillitis, it is only an effective way to reduce your risk of developing strep throat. Remember, your tonsils are designed to prevent throat infection. It is possible to get strep throat without tonsils.
13. When Are Antibiotics Prescribed for Tonsillitis?
Antibiotics are only prescribed for tonsillitis when it is caused by a bacterial infection. Antibiotics will provide rapid symptom relief and, after 24 hours, prevent you from spreading the infection to others. Never take an antibiotic for viral tonsillitis. It is ineffective and increases your risk of antibiotic resistance and gastrointestinal distress.
14. Which Antibiotic Can I Expect to Be Prescribed?
The most common antibiotic prescribed for tonsillitis is penicillin. Let us know during your appointment if you are allergic to penicillin so we can offer you an alternative antibiotic.
15. Can I Stop Taking My Antibiotics If I Feel Better?
It is absolutely critical that you take your entire course of antibiotics exactly as prescribed. Even if your symptoms disappear completely, you run the risk of the infection getting worse if you deviate from the instructions provided to you. Moreover, you may suffer from other complications, such as post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis or rheumatic fever.
If you’re not sure that your antibiotic is working, we strongly recommend coming in for a follow-up visit. Never hesitate to reach out if you feel you need additional medical care.
16. Do I Have Strep Throat, Too?
Unfortunately, one strain of bacteria that causes tonsillitis can also cause strep throat. Therefore, it’s not uncommon to have both tonsillitis and strep throat at the same time. Like tonsillitis, strep throat is contagious, so you want to stay home until your symptoms are gone. You may have both tonsillitis and strep throat if you are experiencing the symptoms of tonsillitis along with:
- Severe body aches
- Small red spots at the back of your mouth
- White pus around your nostrils
- Extensive rashes
The same tests used to diagnose tonsillitis can accurately diagnose strep throat. Luckily, if you have strep throat, there’s a good chance the same bacteria is the cause of your tonsillitis. Therefore, you will not need two separate treatments for the two illnesses.
17. What Complications Are Associated With Tonsillitis?
If you suffer from chronic tonsillitis, you are at risk for developing obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA. OSA occurs when your airways swell and you cannot draw in enough oxygen when you sleep. If left untreated, this can lead to several medical conditions, such as strokes, irritability, weight gain and memory impairment.
Another risk of having tonsillitis is the illness spreading to another part of your body. This is known as tonsillar cellulitis. Moreover, your infected tonsils can lead to a significant buildup of pus behind your tonsils. This is known as a peritonsillar abscess. If you develop this condition, you will need drainage and surgery.
18. How Common Is Bacterial Tonsillitis?
Bacterial tonsillitis only represents around 15 to 30% of all tonsillitis cases. The vast majority of these cases are caused by strep bacteria. Children between the ages of 5 and 15 are far more likely than any other age group to catch tonsillitis caused by bacteria. If your child is diagnosed with bacterial tonsillitis, ensure she takes her antibiotics exactly as directed and keep her home for the first 24 hours of antibiotic treatment.
Learn More About Tonsillitis Relief Today
If you suspect you or a loved one is suffering from tonsillitis, a quick, accurate diagnosis is required before you can get effective tonsillitis relief. To learn more, contact the reliable ENT experts at Regional ENT Associates in Gallatin, TN today to book an appointment. Regardless of your diagnosis, we will work closely with you to develop a safe, effective, customized treatment plan for rapid relief from your tonsillitis symptoms.