Tonsillitis is a viral or bacterial infection where one or both tonsils -- round lymph nodes/glands in the back of the throat -- become red, swollen, and inflamed. Viral infections are caused by the adenovirus, the influenza virus, and the Epstein-Barr virus (which also causes mononucleosis), and the incubation period is different for each virus. Bacterial infections are caused by Group A streptococcus (which also causes strep throat), and the incubation period lasts two to seven days. Tonsillitis is spread if there is direct contact with infected oral or nasal secretions.
Tonsillitis often starts with a fever, a sore throat, trouble swallowing, and loss of appetite. The lining or mucous membranes of the throat are red, which is a sign of inflammation, and the tonsils are enlarged with white pus spots on them. Some children complain of abdominal pain and may vomit. Lymph nodes in the neck may swell with tonsillitis caused by mononucleosis.
Some people can carry the streptococcus bacteria without getting infected with tonsillitis. These carriers can spread the germ to other people even if they are not sick themselves. Try to keep your child away from anyone with tonsillitis or a sore throat, and encourage frequent hand washing to prevent infections. Teach your child not to share drinks, toothbrushes, or eating utensils with others.
Tonsillitis cannot be treated at home and requires a doctor's immediate attention. The doctor may test your child's throat using a cotton swab to find out what cause the tonsillitis; bacterial infections will be treated with antibiotics such as penicillin (unless the child is allergic to it), which should be taken as prescribed. The doctor may also take a blood test to check for mononucleosis. Otherwise, you can follow these guidelines to increase recovery, but always consult your doctor first to make sure these steps are recommended for your child:
Consult your doctor again if your child's fever rises during treatment, is she breathing problems, or if she has painful and swollen joints, a rash, or an earache. In rare cases, untreated bacterial tonsillitis can lead to an abscess (an infected pocket of pus) around the tonsils. The child will have a high fever, trouble swallowing, and struggle with opening the jaw.
A tonsillectomy, surgery to remove the tonsils, will be needed if the tonsils are so big that the child has trouble swallowing/eating or has snoring and restless sleep patterns for a long time. If a child has repeated strep throats, a tonsillectomy will also be needed.
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