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Because of their disease-fighting function, the tonsils are prone to infection or inflammation, and tonsil infections are very common. Tonsil problems can lead to problems with swallowing or breathing, especially at night, in addition to fever and pain.

Causes of tonsillitis

Most tonsillitis cases are viral in origin, and may be traced back to the herpes simplex virus, Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, adenovirus, mononucleosis, and the measles virus. Tonsillitis is caused by bacteria in 15-20 percent of cases, and streptococcus pyogenes (strep throat) is the most common bacterium.

Symptoms of tonsillitis

The main symptom of tonsillitis is a sore throat which presents with red, swollen tonsils. The specific type of tonsillitis will determine which symptoms occur, whether the case is acute, recurrent, and chronic or a peritonsillar abscess.

Possible symptoms include:

  • Sore throat
  • Red, swollen tonsils
  • White patches on the tonsils
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fever
  • Drooling
  • Ear pain
  • Bad breath
  • Mouth breathing from tonsil enlargement
  • Bright red tonsils
  • Grayish-white coating on the tonsils
  • Tender lymph nodes

Treating tonsillitis

Even though tonsillitis will often go away on its own without medical care, tonsillitis should be evaluated by a physician since certain infections can be more dangerous than others. Strep throat is especially dangerous and may lead to serious medical conditions such as rheumatic fever, which can cause permanent heart damage or death.

Home care for tonsillitis may include gargling with warm salt water, drinking tea, and taking NSAID medication such as ibuprofen to help with pain relief. If tonsillitis is determined to have a bacterial origin, then a physician will prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection.

Nonsurgical treatment

Antibiotics are useful in treating bacterial infections of the tonsils, but viral infections don’t respond to antibiotics and are usually treated only with over-the-counter drugs to relieve painful symptoms or fever. A physician can determine which treatment is best for your tonsillitis.

Surgical treatment

Surgical removal of the tonsils is called a tonsillectomy, which used to be a common, preventative procedure for children, but today it is only performed when medically necessary. Patients who are good candidates for a tonsillectomy are those who have chronic, severe or recurrent tonsillitis. Patients may also have a tonsillectomy to treat sleep-disordered breathing related to enlarged tonsils, or to treat rare diseases of the tonsils.

Tonsillectomy is an outpatient procedure, meaning you will go home the same day as the procedure unless there are complications. The adenoids, which are similar tissues to the tonsils found behind the nose and roof of the mouth, are often removed during the same procedure in children, but they usually disappear by the adult years.

Risks and complications of surgical treatment

There are risks associated with any surgical procedure. Risks associated with tonsillectomies include:

  • Swelling of the tongue and soft palate which can cause breathing problems, especially in the first few hours after surgery. This swelling may also cause the patient to breathe through the mouth or snore until swelling subsides.
  • Bleeding which may be severe and require additional treatment or a hospital stay. If scabs from the wound dislodge too soon, they may bleed as well.
  • Infection that requires further treatment.
  • Nausea and vomiting which usually subside after the first 24 hours. Fever on the night of the surgery, which is usually low-grade. If the fever is higher than 102 degrees, contact your physician

Do you experience sore throats often? You may have chronic tonsillitis, and our West Medical ENT Physicians are eager to help you. Please call the experts at West Medical today at (855) 690-0565 to set up your initial consultation.

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