Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils that is typically due to contraction of a virus or some other type of bacteria. The tonsils are two particularly small glands, one on each side of the throat. The glands can be seen at the back of the mouth in between two membranes that run towards the palate. Tonsillitis can be temporary or long-lasting, in which case the assistance of a physician, and possibly a surgeon, is recommended.
Alternative Names Given to Tonsillitis
A few of the common alternative names for tonsillitis include:
- Pharyngitis–an inflammation of the pharynx.
- Laryngitis–an inflammation of the larynx.
- Both of these inflammatory diseases can cause and be caused by tonsillitis.
Symptoms That Suggest the Presence of Tonsillitis
Because tonsillitis is the swelling of glands in the patient’s throat, it is commonly accompanied by other symptoms that affect the throat and mouth. The most common symptom of tonsillitis is a sore, scratchy throat. The sore throat may develop gradually or suddenly and can be mild or severe.
Other symptoms associate with tonsillitis include:
- A fever that can rise above 100 degrees fahrenheit.
- Heavy nasal congestion including a runny nose.
- Swollen lymph nodes.
- The tonsils become red and swollen. Patches of pus are also present and can even cover the entire tonsil.
- Swallowing can become difficult and painful.
- Bleeding that comes from the tonsil area.
- Intense earaches.
- Bad smelling breath.
If the tonsillitis is virus caused, these symptoms may be accompanied by other cold symptoms such as sneezing and coughing. If a viral infection is the cause of the tonsil inflammation the symptoms will generally go away within two weeks. It is still important for the patient to receive medical care as tonsillitis can cause other problems such as strep throat.
Children may have a difficult time speaking or even breathing if the tonsillitis is severe.
If symptoms do not subside and the tonsillitis is not viral in nature, then other symptoms may also be present that are not directly related to the bacteria-caused tonsillitis. Tonsillitis can also cause severe headaches, stress, depression, trouble sleeping, and other problems.
Common Causes of Tonsillitis
The most common cause of tonsillitis is prolonged strep throat. Strep throat causes severe irritation of the throat and tonsil area and infection can result if the irritation becomes too severe. Certain types of viruses can also cause acute tonsillitis, which generally subsides within a few weeks.
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Chronic, or prolonged tonsillitis can often be the result of severe allergies, extensive viral infections, and bacterial infections. A person who experiences frequent sore throats may have signs of chronic tonsillitis.
The most common bacterial cause of tonsillitis is due to a bacteria that is known as Group A Beta-Hemolytic Streptococcus. Heavy smoking can also lead to tonsillitis because it weakens the ability of the throat to fight off viruses and bacteria.
Tonsillitis is also known to be contagious and can be spread by close contacted with someone who is infected with tonsillitis. Certain disease-causing agents known as pathogens can be passed through the air and can infect a healthy person. These pathogens generally get on the skin of the victim and enters the throat through mucous membranes such as the mouth, nose, and eyes.
Most tonsillitis symptoms usually appear within a 7 day period following exposure.
Risk Factors for Tonsillitis
Tonsillitis is most prevalent in school-aged children. Not all cases of tonsillitis occur in children as some adults have been known to have been diagnosed with tonsillitis. Aside from young children being at a higher risk of tonsillitis, those who have had a lot of contact with someone who has been infected with tonsillitis are also at risk.
Tonsillitis bacteria spread in a similar form to the way that cold and flu bacteria spreads. For this reason, it is important to avoid contact with those who have been affected by tonsillitis.
Other known risk factors for tonsillitis include:
- People who use alcohol excessively
- People who have had their spleen removed (splenectomy)
- Sickle cell anemia patients
- A person who has recently had sinusitis (swelling of the sinuses)
- People who have any condition that is known to weaken the immune system such as diabetes
- Patients who have recently undergone chemotherapy treatment
People who are known to have weak immune systems are less able to fight off bacteria and viruses that cause strep throat. For this reason people who have recently undergone some sort of intense therapy such as radiation therapy, surgery, or some other operation may be at a greater risk of contracting tonsillitis.
Prevention Tips to Avoid Tonsillitis
The best protection against tonsillitis is to keep children and others at higher risk away from someone who is infected. Tonsillitis viruses and bacteria are mostly transferred from person to person through physical contact.
Practicing good hygiene habits will also aid in preventing tonsillitis. These habits include regular hand washing and teeth brushing. It is also good practice to avoid too much rubbing of the eyes, mouth, and nose, because these are the most common areas in which bacteria can enter the mucous membranes.
Tests and Diagnosis Considerations for Tonsillitis
The most common form of diagnosis that physicians use to determine if a patient has tonsillitis is a regular physical check-up and an examination of the throat.
An accurate patient medical history is also important in order to allow the physician to determine if tonsillitis is a recurring health disorder. If tonsillitis is recurring it may affect treatment options.
Herbal and Home Remedies for Tonsillitis
One of the most effective home remedies for tonsillitis is the use of lime juice. One common remedy is to mix the juice of a fresh lime or lemon mixed into a glass of water, a few teaspoons of honey, and a pinch of salt. The mixture should be sipped slowly. The acid in the lime or lemon juice is used to kill off some of the infected cells that cause tonsillitis.
Milk & Vegetables
Milk has been proven effective in relieving the pain associated with tonsillitis. A mixture of milk and pepper powder can be taken on three to four successive nights. This drink is known to reduce the pain and swelling of the tonsils.Dairy products such as milk, ice cream, yogurt, and cheese should be avoided as often as possible, unless recommended by the herbal and home remedies or a physician.
Vegetable juice such as carrot, beet, and cucumber juice can be taken in order to provide the immune system with the vitamins and minerals needed to combat viral infections.
Some cultures use an herb known as the Fenugreek Seed to cure tonsillitis. A few tablespoons of fenugreek seeds are simmered for roughly 30 minutes in one liter of water and then cooled in the fridge.
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The patient should gargle the entire concoction within 24 hours for best results. Banafsha flowers is another herb that can be taken in order to relieve tonsillitis pain. 10 to 15 grams of Banafsha is boiled in 50 milliliters of milk. After the mixture has been boiled it should be filtered in order to remove the remaining flower leaves. The milk should then be taken while it is still hot.
Both Banafsha flowers and Fenugreek seeds can be purchased at most herbal pharmacies for a few dollars.
Pharmaceutical Treatments for Tonsillitis
Most physicians will recommend throat lozenges and specific types of pain relieving medications to patients who are suffering from tonsillitis. If the tonsillitis has been caused by a bacteria, the doctor will most often recommend one of several antibiotics. Penicillin is the most commonly prescribed antibiotic, assuming the patient has no allergic reaction to the medication. Erythomycin and Clarithromycin are other antibiotics commonly prescribed for patients who shown signs of allergic reactions to Penicillin.
Because the pain caused by tonsillitis can be very intense, a topical anesthetic is often recommended. Medicines such as liquids and lozenges containing lignocaine, benzydamine, and flubiprofen are generally recommended to patients and do not require a prescription. The purpose of these lidocaine solutions is to simply relieve the patient’s pain. Ibuprofen and aspirin are also used for pain relief.
Surgical Treatments for Tonsillitis
Surgical removal of the tonsils may be required if the tonsillitis becomes extremely severe. This is typically not recommended for adults, but is common during childhood. The most common operation performed is a tonsillectomy, which is the removal of the tonsils by using a scalpel. In some cases the surgeon will opt to use a special type of laser to remove the tonsils.
This generally allows for a quicker recovery and less of a chance of experiencing post-operative bleeding. Surgery is recommended for patients who experience more than seven serious throat infections during a 12 month period.
Tonsillectomy is typically performed on an outpatient basis, which means the patient will usually be allowed to go home on the same day of the surgery, barring any unforeseen complications. The surgery is relatively safe and has an extremely low mortality rate. The most common complication that arises due to a tonsillectomy is bleeding in the throat which can cause an airway obstruction.
During the past few years, physicians have become more hesitant in suggesting surgery as an alternative, unless they believe it is the only way to solve the problem. This is due to the advancements that have been made in prescription and herbal remedies along with the risks that are always associated with surgery, such as a bad reaction to anesthesia.
Tonsillectomies have been practiced for over 3000 years and began with “Hindu medicine” practices and is the most common surgical procedure to cure tonsillitis. There are other procedures, however.
Electrocautery is a procedure in which the tissue surrounding the tonsils is burned away. There are several risks associated with electrocautery that include severe burns surrounding the tonsillar tissue and postoperative bleeding.
Radio-frequency ablation is a practice that can be performed outside of a surgical center in a physician’s office. The method behind this operation is the use of radio-frequency energy to destroy the infected tissues surrounding the tonsils. Radio-frequency ablation is often performed in mild cases of tonsillitis and is not recommended for serious infections.
Tissue welding is a new technology that uses small amounts of thermal energy to heal the tonsillar tissue. Many surgeons deem this operation a “painless tonsillectomy” that requires very little if no pain killers. A small amount of local anesthetic may be provided for small children who do not deal with pain. The thermal energy applied to the tissues is generally not much more hot than regular body temperature.
Even with all of these new tonsillitis operations available to patients, the tonsillectomy is the most common. The advantage of a tonsillectomy is that it makes it nearly impossible for the patient to have the infections occur again. The biggest reason that some people opt for alternative operations is that tonsillectomies can be more expensive due to the anesthetic and hospital bills that are associated with the operation.