The tonsils — tissues that serve to trap germs and bacteria and prevent infection — are located in the back of the throat. Their constant exposure to germs makes them susceptible to infection themselves. Following puberty, their role as immune system defenders declines significantly; this is why tonsil infections are far more common in children than adults.
Tonsillitis is the name given to a tonsil infection, swelling and inflammation of the tonsils caused by viruses, bacteria, allergies or upper respiratory disorders. In addition to red and swollen tonsils, symptoms include white or yellow patches on the tonsils, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, fever, tender lymph nodes, bad breath, headache and stiff neck. Younger children may be extra irritable, drool excessively and refuse to eat.
How your doctor treats tonsillitis depends on whether a virus or bacteria has caused it. If the infection is viral, it should clear up in a week to ten days, and home remedies should provide some relief. Ensure you get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids (especially warm liquids such as broth or tea with honey).
To soothe your throat, gargle with warm salt water several times a day, eat cold treats such as popsicles and suck on lozenges or cough drops. Avoid cigarette smoke and other irritants. If a bacterial infection such as strep throat is responsible, antibiotics will be administered.
Your otolaryngologist may recommend surgical removal of the tonsils (tonsillectomy) if the condition recurs frequently.