Tonsillitis

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Tonsils are fleshy pads located at each side of the back of the throat.

Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils, two oval-shaped pads of tissue at the back of the throat — one tonsil on each side. Signs and symptoms of tonsillitis include swollen tonsils, sore throat, difficulty swallowing and tender lymph nodes on the sides of the neck.

Most cases of tonsillitis are caused by infection with a common virus, but bacterial infections also may cause tonsillitis.

Because appropriate treatment for tonsillitis depends on the cause, it’s important to get a prompt and accurate diagnosis. Surgery to remove tonsils, once a common procedure to treat tonsillitis, is usually performed only when bacterial tonsillitis occurs frequently, doesn’t respond to other treatments or causes serious complications.

Tonsillitis most commonly affects children between preschool ages and the mid-teenage years. Common signs and symptoms of tonsillitis include:

In young children who are unable to describe how they feel, signs of tonsillitis may include:

It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis if your child has symptoms that may indicate tonsillitis.

Call your doctor if your child is experiencing:

Get immediate care if your child has any of these symptoms:

Tonsillitis is most often caused by common viruses, but bacterial infections can also be the cause.

The most common bacterium causing tonsillitis is Streptococcus pyogenes (group A streptococcus), the bacterium that causes strep throat. Other strains of strep and other bacteria also may cause tonsillitis.

The tonsils are the immune system’s first line of defense against bacteria and viruses that enter your mouth. This function may make the tonsils particularly vulnerable to infection and inflammation. However, the tonsil’s immune system function declines after puberty — a factor that may account for the rare cases of tonsillitis in adults.

Risk factors for tonsillitis include:

Inflammation or swelling of the tonsils from frequent or ongoing (chronic) tonsillitis can cause complications such as:

If tonsillitis caused by group A streptococcus or another strain of streptococcal bacteria isn’t treated, or if antibiotic treatment is incomplete, your child has an increased risk of rare disorders such as:

The germs that cause viral and bacterial tonsillitis are contagious. Therefore, the best prevention is to practice good hygiene. Teach your child to:

To help your child prevent the spread of a bacterial or viral infection to others:

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Tonsillitis

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