Tonsillitis is an infection of the small glands located at the back of the throat (the tonsils). Tonsillitis is most prevalent in children aged five to 15 years, but can affect people of all ages. The infection can be caused by both bacterial and viral infections, although viral is the most common.
The tonsils are not fully understood, but it is thought they act as a barrier against infection in children with developing immune systems. It is believed that the tonsils act as a way of isolating infection to prevent it from spreading further in the body. As the immune system matures, the tonsils lose the ability to act in this way and that is why tonsillitis is more common in children.
The symptoms of tonsillitis include:
- Sore throat
- Red swollen tonsils
- Fever or chills
- Swollen lymph nodes
- White or yellow pus filled spots on the tonsils
- Ear or neck pain (a baby will show this by pulling at her ears)
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing (a baby may show this by refusing to eat)
If your child is experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should take her to the doctors. The doctor will examine your child's throat to look for redness, swelling and spots on the tonsils.
If bacterial tonsillitis is suspected, your doctor will prescribe a course of antibiotics to fight the infection. It is important that your child completes the full course of antibiotics, even if the symptoms of the infection disappear within a matter of days.
Tonsillectomies (removal of the tonsils) are not performed as frequently as they once were, so it is unlikely your child will require the operation. Babies and toddlers are very unlikely to need their tonsils removed. If an older child has suffered recurrent bouts of tonsillitis, surgery may be an option your doctor wishes to explore.
You should ensure your child stays hydrated and has plenty of bed rest to help her fight the infection. Cold drinks can help to soothe the discomfort caused by tonsillitis. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about over the counter pain medication to help treat the symptoms of tonsillitis.
You will need to keep your child home until she has fought off the infection to prevent other children catching it. Your child will also find it easier to fight infection if she is not exposed to new germs and viruses at playgroup or school. You should also encourage your child to cough and sneeze into a tissue and throw it in the bin. Good hygiene is important to prevent tonsillitis spreading, so you should also encourage frequent hand washing.