The tonsils are two lymph nodes located at the back of the throat, and they serve as the first defence against infection. Their purpose is to prevent infection from travelling further into the body, but the tonsils themselves can become infected in the process.
When tonsils become infected the condition is referred to as tonsillitis, which could become serious if left untreated.
Tonsillitis is most common in children beginning in the preschool age up into the teens. The two types of tonsil infection are recurrent tonsillitis that is described as multiple events of acute infection throughout the year. Chronic tonsillitis episodes last longer than the recurrent type, and are characterised by ongoing sore throat, tender lymph nodes and bad breath.
There is a list of other symptoms that are associated with both types of tonsil infection and they include painful swallowing, fever, chills, headache, earache, stiff or sore neck and jaw and a scratchy voice. The tonsils can be red, swollen and have white or yellowish spots.
Another tonsil infection you should keep an eye out for is tonsil stones. They have similar symptoms to tonsillitis and can take many forms – so you could get yellow, red or even a black tonsil stone.
Seeing a Doctor
Chronic tonsillitis does not always require medical attention, but the patient should see a doctor when there is muscle weakness, stiff neck, a fever of 103 degrees or more and promptly if the throat is so swollen that breathing is difficult.
The doctor will make a diagnosis based on a physical examination, and a throat swab may be taken to identify the cause.
Antibiotics will be prescribed if the throat culture shows the cause is a bacterial infection. They can be used to treat tonsil stones, tonsillitis and just about any kind of tonsil infection.
If the condition is recurrent or resistant to treatment, the doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy. This type of surgery was much more common in earlier times, but it is done only as a means of last resort these days.
There is a common belief that the best cure for most health issues is a good defence. This is also true for infected tonsils since the disease is very contagious. It is best to avoid people who are suffering from a tonsil infection. Good hygiene is also essential, so washing the hands using an antibacterial soap is recommended.
While an episode of tonsillitis can usually be cleared up within less than a week, there are serious complications that can also develop. Sometimes the infection will spread and affect other areas within the body. This condition is called tonsillar cellulitis. A buildup of pus can also develop behind the tonsils known as peritonsillar abscess.
If that should happen, more surgery will be required to drain the abscess. It is very important for the patient to take the antibiotics as prescribed to prevent further complications which could include rheumatic fever.
Sometimes when the throat is very sore for more the a couple days, the problem may be strep throat rather than tonsillitis. It is important to see a doctor if the problem is severe and continues, to verify whether it really is strep throat.
This condition is also treated with antibiotics, and the patient should be scheduled for a follow-up visit after the full course of medication has been taken.