HomeHEALTHInfected Tonsils: How To Know If You Have Tonsillitis

Infected Tonsils: How To Know If You Have Tonsillitis

Your child has a sore throat and is coughing. Or maybe you have a fever and are having difficulty swallowing. These are common symptoms of cold or flu, but could they also be symptoms of tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis shares many symptoms (and causes) with other illnesses that affect your throat — which can make it difficult to know whether you have tonsillitis or something else.

Below, we’ll answer all your questions about tonsillitis, including how tonsillitis differs from other diseases. Read on to learn how to get the care you need when you need it.

First of all, what are tonsils?

Tonsils are two small masses of tissue located at the back of your throat. Tonsils are a part of your immune system and help prevent infection by trapping germs that enter through your nose and mouth.

What is tonsillitis?

While tonsils do a great job of protecting you, sometimes the tonsils themselves can become infected. When tonsils become infected, swollen or inflamed, it is called tonsillitis.

symptoms of tonsillitis

The telltale sign of tonsillitis is tonsils that usually look red and swollen, and coated with yellow or white spots or patches. But tonsillitis also comes with many other symptoms.

  • sore throat that doesn’t get better
  • bad breath
  • to cough
  • swollen lymph nodes in your neck
  • difficulty swallowing
  • fever over 100.9 degrees Fahrenheit
  • neck pain or stiffness
  • Headache
  • voice changes

Symptoms of tonsillitis in young children

If your child has tonsillitis, he may not be able to tell you how he is feeling. But it is possible that they can tell you by their actions. The following behaviors may indicate that they have a sore throat and are finding it very difficult to swallow:

  • agility
  • drooling
  • refuse to eat

due to tonsillitis

Most of the time tonsillitis is caused by viruses, such as those responsible for the common cold. If your tonsillitis is caused by a virus, you are more likely to have mild symptoms that go away very quickly.

Tonsillitis can also be caused by bacteria, such as the one that causes strep throat. If your tonsillitis is caused by bacteria, you’ll need antibiotics to help you get better.

Is tonsillitis contagious?

Tonsillitis is not contagious, but bacteria and viruses that cause tonsillitis usually are. And these germs can cause colds and other diseases. So if you or your child has tonsillitis, practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of germs.

who gets tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is very common, and most people will have it at least once. Tonsillitis can happen to anyone, but it is most common in children aged 5-15 years. It is rare in children under the age of 2.

risk factors for tonsillitis

You may be more likely to get tonsillitis if:

  • are you a child or an adult
  • you are often around viruses or bacteria – for example, at school or daycare
  • you have been exposed to radiation
  • you have a weak immune system
  • you live in a cold climate
  • you breathe in high levels of airborne pollutants such as smoke
  • you are overweight or living with diabetes or heart disease
  • you overuse corticosteroids

How long does tonsillitis last?

Tonsillitis may go away in a few days, or it may last for weeks. It can also go away and come back. Your doctor may use the following terms when describing how long tonsillitis will last.

acute tonsillitis

Acute tonsillitis occurs when the infection lasts between three days and two weeks. Acute tonsillitis is often caused by a virus and usually has mild symptoms.

chronic tonsillitis

Chronic tonsillitis occurs when symptoms last longer than two weeks. People with chronic tonsillitis often have a sore throat, bad breath, and enlarged lymph nodes that do not go away.

recurrent tonsillitis

Tonsillitis can also be recurrent, meaning that your tonsils become inflamed and infected several times a year. Recurrent tonsillitis in children is usually associated with recurrent strep throat. In adults, recurrent tonsillitis is caused by a variety of bacteria. Recurrent tonsillitis is more likely if:

  • Tonsillitis is caused by a strain of bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics. Recurrent tonsillitis may occur even if an earlier episode has responded to antibiotics
  • a person has a weak immune system
  • other family members had frequent complaints of tonsillitis
  • A child is between 5-7 years old – young children have larger tonsils, and their immune systems are not fully developed to fight off the concentrate

Comparing tonsillitis and other diseases

Tonsillitis is caused by viruses and bacteria that affect your nose and throat – often the same ones that cause colds and influenza. So, it’s no wonder that tonsillitis is commonly mistaken for other conditions.

strep throat vs tonsillitis

Strep throat is an infection of the throat and tonsils caused by a certain type of bacteria – Streptococcus pyogenes. So, strep throat is generally considered to be a specific type of tonsillitis.

sore throat (pharyngitis) vs tonsillitis

The major difference between these two conditions is that pharyngitis affects the pharynx, (which is another name for the throat), whereas tonsillitis affects the tonsils.

Pharyngitis and tonsillitis can both be the result of viral or bacterial infections. Pharyngitis can also be caused by fungal infection.

These conditions can have very similar symptoms, including sore throat, difficulty swallowing, and fever. But if your lymph nodes are enlarged, you are more likely to have tonsillitis. And if you have pharyngitis caused by a fungal infection, your symptoms will be more severe.

cold vs tonsillitis

Both cold and tonsillitis can be caused by the same virus. In fact, cold viruses are one of the most common causes of tonsillitis. So, how do you know if a cold has turned into viral tonsillitis? If it is tonsillitis, the tonsils will be swollen and may have spots on them. If you are just down with a common cold, your tonsils will not be swollen or infected.

COVID-19 vs Tonsillitis

The symptoms of COVID-19 and tonsillitis can be similar – with both you may have a sore throat, fever, and headache. But if it is extremely difficult to swallow or you have swollen tonsils, enlarged lymph nodes, bad breath or a stiff neck, it is more likely to be tonsillitis. If you’re not sure, test for COVID-19 at home using an antigen test.

tonsillitis complications

Complications of tonsillitis are very rare. Still, they happen. Here’s what can happen if you don’t get treatment.

spread bacterial infection

If you don’t get bacterial tonsillitis treated, the bacterial infection can spread to other parts of the body, causing problems.

tonsil stones

If you have chronic tonsillitis, you may be more likely to get tonsil stones which are white or yellow patches that cover your tonsils. These bumps collect bacteria, fungus, food, dead cells, and material such as salvia.
Tonsil stones are usually not harmful, but they can actually cause bad breath that lasts for years or a lifetime. Tonsil stones are most common in people aged 18-35.

Tonsil stones can usually be treated at home. In some cases, your doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy to remove your tonsils.

shortness of breath and sleep apnea

Swollen tonsils can block your airways, making it difficult to breathe day and night.
Tonsillitis may contribute to obstructive sleep apnea, a nighttime breathing disorder that occurs when a person’s airway becomes partially or completely blocked during sleep. In fact, enlarged tonsils are one of the main causes of obstructive sleep apnea in children.

If your child has symptoms of sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy to remove the tonsils.

pus around the tonsils

A rare complication of tonsillitis is a peritonsillar abscess. This occurs when pus accumulates between the tonsils and the wall of the throat. This condition can cause swelling inside your mouth and throat, making it difficult to breathe, swallow, speak, or even open your mouth. Draining an abscess usually requires immediate medical attention.

A peritonsillar abscess is caused by the same bacteria responsible for strep throat and is more common in teenagers and adults.

Will tonsillitis get better on its own?

depends on. If the tonsils are swollen but not painful, you usually don’t need to do anything. It is likely that tonsillitis is caused by a viral infection and should go away within a couple of weeks with tonsillitis home remedies.

But if tonsillitis comes with a fever, doesn’t go away, or keeps coming back, you or your child will need medical treatment to help tonsillitis go away.

When to see a doctor for sore throat and enlarged tonsils?

In most cases, home remedies for tonsillitis will be all that is needed to help you get better. But there are times when you should seek help from your doctor.

If you or your child have a primary care appointment:

  • sore throat with fever
  • sore throat that doesn’t get better in a day or two
  • pain when swallowing
  • Excessive fatigue

Go to the emergency room if you or your child has:

  • shortness of breath
  • salivation in large quantities because it is difficult to swallow

During the appointment, your primary care doctor or therapist will look at your sore throat to see what may be causing your symptoms. They may also swab the back of the throat to collect a sample that can be tested for bacteria. If the test is positive, you’ll need antibiotics for a bacterial infection. If the test is negative, the tonsillitis is probably caused by a viral infection and should go away on its own.

If antibiotics don’t work or if the tonsillitis keeps coming back, your doctor will recommend seeing an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor to determine if a tonsillectomy, a procedure to remove your tonsils, may be an option to prevent Recurrent infections may occur.

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