The tonsils are little buds at the back of the throat and are part of the body’s immune system. They help keep us from getting sick when germs enter the mouth by killing bacteria and viruses. Sometimes these tiny organs can become infected and sore; this is called tonsillitis. Most tonsil infections are not serious and disappear in a few days. But, some are more serious and need to be treated with antibiotics. Your child’s doctor will be able to tell you what has caused her tonsillitis and how to treat it.
What causes tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis is caused when bacteria or viruses infect the tonsils. Although anyone can get tonsillitis, children are more prone to it as they do not yet have as much immunity to illnesses as adults. Most of the time, tonsillitis occurs because of viruses, but, in about 15% of cases, it’s caused by bacteria.
Is tonsillitis serious?
The majority of tonsillitis is not serious, but when it’s caused by bacteria and not treated correctly, tonsillitis can lead to infections of the nose, ears, and sinuses, as well as glue ear and quinsy.
Can I prevent tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis itself is not contagious, but the germs that cause it are, so be sure to teach your kids to wash their hands properly and often. Keep your kids away from other sick kids, and, if your own child is sick, keep her home to prevent infecting other children.
How do I know if my child has tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis hurts. Your child might complain that it hurts to talk, eat and swallow. She may also have a fever, swelling under each side of her jaw, and pus on and around her tonsils.
How do I treat tonsillitis?How you treat tonsillitis depends on what caused it. If it’s caused by a virus, it should go away on its own in a few days, but you’ll need to keep your child comfortable. Give her paracetamol for fever and pain, and make sure she gets lots of rest and fluids. Don’t be too worried if she doesn’t want to eat for a couple of days – her sore throat may make her lose her appetite. Offer soft cool foods such as ice cream and ice-blocks to soothe her throat.
Tonsillitis caused by bacteria will probably need to be treated with antibiotics. Your doctor is the only one who can tell what has caused your child’s illness. He might use a swab to collect a sample from your child’s throat for testing. Use the same at-home treatments for bacterial tonsillitis as viral tonsillitis.
If you child suffers from chronic tonsillitis – repeated separate episodes of tonsillitis each year that effect your child’s day-to-day life – you may be referred to a specialist for a tonsillectomy, the surgical removal of tonsils. This is now considered a last resort action and doctors now try to resolve tonsillitis without surgery.
Should I call the doctor?
It’s a good idea to call the doctor whenever your child has a very sore throat so that he can check to see what’s causing it. Call him right away if your child has a fever of more than 39ºC, if she has a stiff neck, can’t swallow or is drooling. These can be signs that the infection is very serious and needs immediate medical treatment.
What you need to know about tonsilitis
- Tonsillitis is a common childhood infection caused by either a virus or bacteria.
- Viral tonsillitis usually goes away on its own in a few days, but tonsillitis caused by bacteria might need antibiotic treatment.
- Most doctors no longer recommend removing the tonsils as a form of treatment.
Find more relevant articles and information about tonsilitis:
- Find more about bacterial and viral infections
- Learn how to teach kids to wash their hands
- What is the best way to take a temperature?
- Know more about fever?
Written by Rebecca Stigall for Kidspot, New Zealand’s parenting resource for family health. Sources include Better Health Channel, NSW Health and Health Insite.
Last revised: Monday, 18 January 2010
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.