Tonsillitis is a painful throat condition that often resolves itself on its own. In many cases, however, the resolution is only temporary, and the condition returns. In worst-case scenarios, the condition returns repeatedly and must be solved through a medical procedure. If you or your child suffers from pain in their throat that may be caused by tonsillitis, visit Regional ENT Associates in Gallatin, TN for expert tonsillitis treatment.
Know Your Tonsils
The tonsils are small, oval-shaped clumps of lymphatic tissue in the back of the mouth, just before the throat begins in earnest. Our body’s lymphatic system is designed to defend us against infection and disease. The tonsils are a critical player in our immune system, there to fight as the first barrier against dangerous germs.
Most of the outside substances we take into our bodies come through the mouth. These naturally include otherwise harmless food and drink, but even these can sometimes carry pathogenic germs. In the case of young children, foreign objects often find their way into the mouth unexpectedly, potentially carrying unexpected germs.
What Do Tonsils Do?
Thanks to their strategic location, the tonsils are one of the body’s front-line defenses against the potential harm that we are exposed to through our mouths or nose. Tonsils contain white blood cells, which are responsible for killing germs and fighting infections. When the tonsils encounter harmful bacteria and viruses that have entered the body through the mouth or nose, they flush them out of our systems with a fluid called “lymph.”
The tonsils aren’t the only such defense mechanism in our mouths. Two additional glands, called the adenoids, reside nearby, behind the roof of the mouth. They perform a similar filtering function and defense against pathogens. Adenoids are much smaller than the tonsils and more important to children than adults because they shrink as we get older. By adulthood, most people’s adenoids have largely disappeared.
Why Do Tonsils Hurt?
Tonsils have a lot of work to do. Every time we eat, drink or breathe something, the tonsils sample it for purity and react accordingly to anything threatening. This amount of work and exposure leaves them vulnerable to disease. When the tonsils become infected, the condition is called tonsillitis.
Symptoms of tonsillitis generally include an extremely sore throat, changes in voice, difficulty swallowing, and a fever. Additional symptoms often include earaches, headaches, and nausea. Since tonsillitis usually affects children, and because tonsils are deep in the mouth, it is sometimes difficult for parents to find out for sure if tonsillitis is behind their children’s complaints of throat pain. A trip to our office can provide a tonsillitis diagnosis and treatment if called for.
What Is Tonsillitis Treatment?
Tonsillitis treatment is the strategic medical response to infected tonsils. The appropriate treatment depends on a variety of factors, including the age of the patient, the length of time that the symptoms have been present, and whether the attack is a first (acute) outbreak or part of a re-occurring pattern.
Treatments can range from simple patience all the way through surgical removal of the tonsils. Patience is often the correct cure because many acute cases of tonsillitis go away on their own in about a week. Being gentle on the throat through diet and rest helps mitigate discomfort during an acute attack.
What Causes Tonsillitis?
The tonsils come in constant contact with many potential pathogens that try to enter the body through our mouths or noses. It’s no wonder they sometimes face more than they can handle and become infected themselves. Experts believe that virtually all U.S. children will at one time or another experience tonsillitis.
Tonsillitis is typically brought on by either a bacterial infection or infection from a virus.
Tonsillitis that is caused by bacteria, such as the strep bacteria that also causes strep throat, is quite common among young children. Youths between the ages of 5 and 15 are especially vulnerable. While by no means uncommon, bacterial infection causes only a fraction of tonsillitis cases. The doctor will check for this diagnosis with a swab and culture test.
If the tonsillitis is determined to be a bacterial infection, the doctor may or may not prescribe antibiotics as a remedy. If the pain has gone on for close to a week, it’s possible that the infection is running down to its last legs and will clear up on its own without medication. If antibiotics are prescribed, be sure you or your child take the medication as directed, and the tonsillitis will heal. Penicillin is a popular and effective cure.
Tonsillitis can also be caused by a virus, even one as simple as that of the common cold. The symptoms are exactly the same as a bacterial infection. In both cases, pains are sometimes accompanied by spots on the tonsils which our doctor can see. In young children, excessive drooling is also seen as a symptom of tonsillitis.
Numerous viruses can cause tonsillitis. Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections, so for an acute (first time) attack, the doctor will most likely prescribe rest, some short-term diet modifications, and acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief.
Can You Treat Tonsillitis Yourself?
In many cases, the answer is yes. Naturally, a doctor makes the diagnosis and ensures that the problem is, in fact, tonsillitis and not something more serious. If this is the first outbreak of tonsillitis and not part of a recurring pattern, here are some tonsillitis treatments you can do to help yourself until your body heals on its own:
Gargle With Salt Water
Gargling with warm salt water every two hours is an effective way to combat tonsillitis. The warm water soothes the swollen tonsils, and the salt serves to destroy bacteria. Even for cases of viral tonsillitis, gargling helps ease discomfort. Gargling may not be safe for small children that can’t do it; parents should supervise the process.
Drink and Eat Warm Liquids
Warm drinks and food such as tea and soup can be very helpful with the throat pain of tonsillitis. It’s important to stress the word “warm” as opposed to hot because too-hot liquids can cause further pain and irritation. Many herbal teas have helpful anti-inflammatory properties, such as ginger tea and tea with turmeric. Honey has a soothing effect, as well.
Avoid Difficult Foods
During a bout of tonsillitis, many patients find it difficult to swallow. It’s advisable to switch to easier foods with a lower impact on chewing and swallowing. Soft foods such as soups, eggs, and gelatins go down easily. Hard foods such as raw vegetables and fruits are likely to cause pain. Dry foods that leave crumbs, such as cookies and chips, are not advisable.
Get Plenty of Rest
Tonsillitis is an infection, and when we have an infection of any kind, rest is critical to the healing process. The body is undertaking a working-overtime level of activity to fight off the infection. To help the body heal, you should avoid exertions and rest as much as you can. Not getting enough rest will make the recovery take longer.
Use Pain Relievers if Needed
The pains caused by tonsillitis can happen in the throat, ears, head, or neck. For adults, simple over the counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen are effective. For children, be sure to use children’s strength pain relief. Adults may also use pain-relieving lozenges with good effect. Small children may not be safe with throat lozenges — throat sprays are a better choice.
Don’t Forget You’re Contagious!
Many people forget that tonsillitis is a contagious disease spread by direct or close contact with someone who is already infected. The disease travels via droplets caused by coughing and sneezing. It’s easy to imagine children being vulnerable to exposure when they’re in school or at play. Adults are contagious too, and kissing can spread the disease.
Tonsillitis caused by a viral infection is usually contagious for a week to ten days. Tonsillitis caused by bacteria can be more virulent and remain contagious for as long as two weeks. The doctor’s diagnosis and regimen should guide your activities during the time you are contagious.
The Surgical Option
When tonsillitis becomes a regular feature of life, showing up several times a year, it is diagnosed as “recurrent.” When outbreaks don’t heal up after two weeks, the condition is said to be chronic. In these cases, the best option for dealing with the malady is to cure it in the ultimate way, by removal of the tonsils. This procedure is called a tonsillectomy.
Back when Baby Boomers were children in the 1950s and 1960s, tonsillectomies were an extremely common procedure. With hindsight and today’s medical know-how, it’s a good guess that many of these procedures weren’t absolutely necessary. Today, doctors are more conservative with tonsillitis treatment. However, in some cases, the procedure is medically necessary or advisable.
What Is the Procedure Like?
For adults, tonsillectomies are performed on an outpatient basis, and patients go home the same day as the surgery. For young children, the doctor may advise an overnight stay in the hospital for observation.
The tonsillectomy is performed under general anesthesia. The jaw is kept open by an apparatus so that the surgeon can work in the mouth freely. A tube is inserted through the nasal passage so that the patient can breathe properly while anesthetized. The tonsils are removed by a scalpel in a procedure that usually takes less than an hour. Once the tonsils are gone, the surgeon cauterizes the bleeding, and the anesthesiologist wakes the patient up in the recovery room.
What’s the Recovery Like?
The full recovery time for a tonsillectomy is usually 10 days to two weeks. Children are advised to spend the first few days after the procedure in bed, followed by several days of quiet activity at home. Most children are able to go back to school in a week to 10 days. Ice cream, popsicles, and other cold treats can soothe sore throats during this time.
For both children and adults that undergo a tonsillectomy, there should be no strenuous activity for two weeks. That includes gym classes for children and gym workouts for adults. The doctor will provide you with recovery guidelines and advice. The procedure is time-tested and generally completely successful, with permanent benefits and no aftereffects.
How Can I Begin Tonsillitis Treatment?
The first step in remedying a medical condition is diagnosing it. Many people, children included, experience a tonsillitis attack in their lives once and never have a problem with it again. Others experience excruciating pain for a week or more during an attack, and experience attacks multiple times every year. Something has to be done; it’s time for tonsillitis treatment.
When you or your child is suffering from a sore throat that lasts more than several days and doesn’t seem to be getting better, it’s time to seek medical attention that can speed the way back to health. Book an appointment today at Regional ENT Associates in Gallatin, TN to get the treatment you need.