5 Things to Know about Tonsils

Written By: Emma Squillace

Having your tonsils removed is one of the most common operations in the US, especially for kids. You likely know that the tonsils are in the vicinity of the throat, but do you know what they are and what they do? Today we’ll cover 7 things you should know about tonsils.

You have 3 types of tonsils

Although there is one type of tonsil that is discussed often, you have 3 different types of tonsils. There are the palatine tonsils which are located on either side of the back of your throat. There are also the adenoids which are on the roof of your mouth. These cannot be seen without an examination of the nasal passages. The third type is called a lingual tonsil. The lingual tonsil is way back near the base of the tongue. All of these tonsils together form a ring shape, called the tonsilllar ring.

When people say ‘tonsils’ there’s one type they mean

When people talk about tonsils, they’re almost always referring to the palatine tonsils which are near the back of your throat. These are a pair of small, soft masses of tissue which are similar to lymph nodes. They usually appear pink like the inside of your mouth, although can look whitish or yellow if you are sick.

Tonsils protect you

Your mouth and nose are primary passages for germs to enter your body. The tonsils try to protect you from these germs by sending notice to your immune system. When the tonsils sense the presence of germs, they are able to activate the defense mechanisms in your immune system so your body can start the process of fighting off germs. You may think that having your tonsils removed would make you more likely to get sick, since this ‘first line of defense’ is gone. However, research shows that often people do not tend to get sick more often after their tonsils are taken out.  

Tonsils can get infected

Even though the tonsils are good at identifying potential threats to the body, they can also be susceptible to inflammation and infection. Some people get many tonsil infections, and some get none. Tonsillitis is the clinical name for an infection of the tonsils. Symptoms of tonsillitis include:

  • Pain in the throat and/or ears
  • Tonsils appear bright red or swollen, and may have white patches
  • Trouble with swallowing
  • Drooling or bad breath
  • Fever

Tonsillitis can usually be treated without surgery

In many cases, tonsillitis symptoms can be relieved at home with rest, gargling with salt water, drinking hot tea, or taking over the counter medication like NSAIDs. However, in some cases, antibiotics are needed, especially when strep throat is involved. There also are some cases that do indicate surgery as the best treatment option. When people have recurring or severe tonsillitis, enlarged tonsils, or diseased tonsils, surgery may be a good option. Even though removing tonsils used to be a frequently performed procedure, we avoid this surgery today unless it is medically necessary.

Most people will have minimal problems with their tonsils. However, both children and adults can find they have chronic tonsil infections, severe tonsillitis symptoms, or other more rare tonsil problems. In any of these cases, it is best to be evaluated by an ENT physician who can help you understand your treatment options. If you have problems with your tonsils and would like to speak to an expert, please call us at (855) 690-0565.

 

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