Tonsils are located at the back of the throat, and their role is to act as a filter and trap germs that could enter the airway and cause infections. They also produce antibodies that fight infection. Ironically, sometimes the tonsils become infected by bacteria or viruses, then swell and become inflamed. This condition is known as tonsillitis (WebMD.com).
In a child too young to effectively describe how he feels, signs of tonsillitis may include drooling because of painful or difficult swallowing, refusing to eat and being fussy. Tonsillitis is most common in children between preschool age and mid-teenage years. Common signs and symptoms include red, swollen tonsils, white patches on the tonsils, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, fever, swollen lymph nodes, bad breath, headache and a scratchy, muffled or throaty voice (MayoClinic.org). If a child is showing any of these signs, give the doctor a call.
At the doctor appointment, the physician will determine the best course of treatment based on the cause of tonsillitis. One of the most common causes is strep throat, and the doctor often will order a rapid strep test or throat swab culture. A blood test also can be used to test for a bacterial infection; however, a viral infection will not show up on any test. If the test reveals bacteria, the physician may prescribe antibiotics.
No matter the throat pain’s cause, parents can take some steps to help their child feel better. Make sure your youngster gets enough rest, drinks warm or very cold fluids to soothe the throat and eats smooth food. Gargling with warm salt water or taking over-the-counter pain relievers are other good options (WebMD.com).
Tonsils play an important role in the immune system, and leaving them in place is best, if possible. Occasionally, tonsillitis becomes recurrent or persistent, or the tonsils cause airway obstruction or difficulty eating. If this is the case, removing them may be necessary. The procedure, called a tonsillectomy (WebMD.com), usually is done as on an outpatient basis, which means your child should be able to go home the day of the surgery. Complete recovery usually takes seven to 14 days.
Jessica Heine is a labor and delivery nurse. She lives in Olathe.
As always, please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.