What Is Tonsillitis?


While many associate tonsillitis with a tonsillectomy, this connection is not as strong as it once was. Tonsillitis is an umbrella term for inflammation of the tonsils caused by bacterial infection or a virus.

“Strep throat is a common cause of tonsillitis, but it’s not the only cause,” said Kara Meister, a head and neck surgeon with Stanford Children’s Health. “There’s a misconception among parents that tonsillitis and strep throat are synonymous terms. This isn’t true.”

Streptococcus A, influenza and rhinovirus can all come with a diagnosis of tonsillitis, since all are likely to cause inflammation in the throat.

Symptoms of Tonsillitis

Child with doctor. Boy in the office of a pediatrician, medical examination pharynx and tonsilsChild with doctor. Boy in the office of a pediatrician, medical examination pharynx and tonsils

If you have tonsillitis, you may also experience wheezing, runny nose and visibly red tissue on the tonsils. Visit a doctor if you or your child has a high fever or if eating, swallowing liquids or turning the neck is too painful.

Treating Tonsillitis

A throat swab is necessary to determine whether the cause of tonsillitis is bacterial. If so, antibiotics are prescribed.

If left untreated, an infection can lead to serious complications and may require surgical intervention. Abscesses can form, which often need to be drained, but other complications include rheumatic fever, post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (PSGN) and pneumococcal disease.

The Mayo Clinic reports that rheumatic fever can cause damage to children’s hearts by compromising their pumping capacity; PSGN can affect the kidneys, and pneumococcal disease targets the lungs and sinuses and can lead to meningitis.

While these conditions are rare, viruses and bacteria are everywhere, so prevention is key when it comes to tonsillitis.

Avoiding Tonsillitis

In order to avoid conditions that cause tonsillitis, it is important to not share cups, water bottles or straws. Wash hands often with soap and warm water to reduce chances of contracting illnesses.

It is also important to keep the immune system strong through healthy eating. Consuming a wide range of fruits and vegetables, staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest is especially important for children. A multivitamin or vitamin C supplement can also be helpful.

“When kids are in school, they are being exposed to new friends and new viruses their bodies haven’t seen,” explained Meister. “The more equipped their immune system is to fight infections, the less likely they’ll get sick.”

For more information about treating or preventing tonsillitis, contact the experts at Topeka ENT today.

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