Why are my tonsils swollen?
The human body is a marvelous creation--a true work of art. It has the infrastructure to keep itself safe from harmful bacteria and viruses, and it has the ability to heal itself. One of these infrastructures is the tonsils. These are lymph nodes located at the back of the throat. Tonsils act as filters that trap bacteria and viruses and prevent them from entering the airway and cause an infection. They also produce antibodies to help fight infection if these things do occur.
But no system is perfect. Sometimes, germs can get the best of the tonsils. When they are overwhelmed by bacteria or viruses, tonsils swell. Tonsillitis is the condition describing that a person’s tonsils are swollen or inflamed.
This sensation can be very similar to the pain and discomfort of sore throats. However, unlike tonsillitis, sore throats generally improve after a day or two. It is often a symptom of a cold, and not a disease itself. It will be followed by other cold symptoms such as a runny nose or congestion. And remember, untreated tonsillitis can cause serious health complications. For this reason, consult a doctor immediately if you have swollen tonsils.
The following symptoms will give you a good idea if you are wondering what swollen tonsils feel like. The condition is characterized by a number of symptoms, which include:
- Redness of the tonsils – If your tonsils feel swollen and look red in color, then chances are that you are suffering from tonsillitis. More importantly, remember that a healthy pair of tonsils is usually pink in color and any discoloration is indicative of your tonsils being affected. So should your tonsils change in hue from pink to red, consult a physician for a speedy diagnosis along with an effective treatment.
- A white or yellow coating on the tonsils – As mentioned earlier, any change in hue from a healthy pink is indicative of tonsillitis, although it should also be pointed out that there are several health conditions that can cause your tonsils to change in color. For this reason, it is essential that you consult a doctor for confirmation of the said condition and seek effective treatment.
- Painful blisters or ulcers in the throat - If you are experiencing painful blisters and ulcers in your throat, then chances are high that you could be suffering from tonsillitis. But remember, allergic reactions to certain substances can also cause ulcers to form in your throat and near the trachea.
- Bad breath – If you happen to suffer from a persistent case of bad breath, it could be indicative of dental decay or even tonsillitis.
- Difficulty swallowing – If you are not able to swallow or experience pain when swallowing something as simple as your own saliva, then your tonsils are sensitive and are more likely to be infected.
- Difficulty breathing through the mouth – If you are not able to breathe properly through the mouth, this could be indicative of several underlying health problems including tonsillitis. Basically, your tonsils are tender and highly sensitive to changes in pressure, so trying to breathe through your mouth can cause you to experience irritation and pain.
- Throat pain or tenderness – If you happen to suffer from prolonged bouts of throat pain, and find that your throat is tender, then you could be suffering from tonsillitis. It is caused by several germs and can point out to other underlying health causes.
- Swollen glands in the neck or jaw area – Infected tonsils often cause your glands in the neck area to swell up, which is what an ENT specialist would look for to confirm a diagnosis of tonsillitis along with other indications or symptoms.
- Ear pain – Whenever a part of your ear, nose, or throat is infected, the other areas often show abnormalities from increased itching sensations to pain. If your tonsils are infected, then you may also experience earaches. A consultation with an ENT specialist should confirm if you have tonsillitis or not.
- Headache – If your tonsils are affected, then you may even develop prolonged bouts of headaches as a result.
- Fever and chills – If you have a persistent fever with chills and a sore throat, then you may be suffering from tonsillitis.
- Loss of appetite – Since your tonsils are infected, they can cause a loss of appetite and even induce nausea in some cases. Do consult with your physician right away and seek immediate treatment for the condition.
Tonsillitis is a fairly common condition, especially among children. When children are afflicted with tonsillitis, they may also experience nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
It can occur occasionally or recur frequently. It can be caused by a myriad of germs. Some of the common culprits include adenovirus, influenza virus, Epstein-Barr virus, parainfluenza virus, herpes simplex virus, and enterovirus.
There are times when a person has only one swollen tonsil, and the other one is perfectly healthy. Having a swollen tonsil on one side can be a symptom of strep throat. It is caused by the Streptococcus bacteria and is most common in children between the ages of five and fifteen.
To set strep throat apart from regular tonsillitis, its symptoms include having a reddened throat or swollen tonsils with white spots or patches, swollen neck glands, fever, and chills.
Tonsillitis may also be a symptom of the more serious condition called peritonsillar abscess. It is also popularly known as "quinsy", which is a condition where pus is present between the tonsil and the throat wall, forming an abscess. It happens when a bacterial infection spreads from the tonsil to its neighboring areas. It is often observed in adolescents and young adults.
Its symptoms include bad breath, difficulty opening the mouth, drooling caused by a difficulty in swallowing, pain in one ear, vocal changes, or difficulty in speaking.
Tonsillitis can be prevented by practicing proper hygiene. A good and proper hygiene can go both ways: preventing you from spreading the germs and preventing you from getting the germs in the environment. Here are some tips to prevent tonsillitis:
- Avoid contact with people who are sick - This is especially important for kids who are prone to having sore throats and tonsillitis. Tonsillitis is caused by a variety of germs, and if your children happen to be susceptible to throat infections, then it may be a good idea to keep them away from sick people.
- Make frequent handwashing a habit - Whether as an adult making tweaks to your lifestyle, or a parent teaching your child, frequent handwashing is a good habit to develop. Handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of infections.
- Bring a hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol in your bag - They come in small bottles that can live in your bag with little fuss. When soap and water are unavailable, hand sanitizers are a good alternative to keep germs at bay. They are always effective and can help keep your hands free from germs. Moreover, it is always a good idea to use a hand sanitizer when heading out or returning back home, especially before eating meals and snacks.
- Do not share toothbrushes or eating utensils, especially if you feel unwell – If your tonsils are swollen and you feel generally unwell, avoid sharing your toothbrush, towels, and eating utensils with others since sharing the same things can help spread the infection.
- Wash and disinfect your child’s toys and surfaces at home – Make sure to disinfect your kids’ toys and general common areas in the house. Since germs can lurk anywhere, it makes sense to use a disinfectant in common areas as it can help eliminate harmful germs.
- Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or towel when you cough and sneeze – If you happen to suffer from tonsillitis, you may want to cover your mouth with a handkerchief when sneezing and coughing to avoid infecting others. And remember, covering your mouth with your hand is not as effective as doing the same with a handkerchief. Hence, always keep one handy with you until your tonsils are treated effectively.
Home Remedies for Swollen Tonsils
A swollen tonsil causes pain and a lot of discomfort for the patient. Thankfully, there are simple home remedies you can use to relieve the pain and help you become more comfortable.
- Drink cold liquids - This may be a no-brainer for most. When your throat is in pain, you will naturally crave for cold drinks, hoping that it will ease the pain. Cold drinks are helpful but should be done in moderation. Don’t drink beverages that are too cold, or it may worsen the inflammation.
- Drink warm bland fluids - Ironically, warm fluids help, too. For some, drinking cold beverages only provides a temporary relief from the pain. Drinking warm fluids can truly help ease the pain with a longer effect. Take note, you should drink "warm" and not "hot" fluids. If you drink hot beverages, you may accidentally scald yourself, which will cause more harm.
- Take lozenges - Try lozenges containing benzocaine or other similar ingredients. Lozenges are also kid-friendly since most of them come in sweet delicious flavors. However, do not give this to kids who are too young, say four and below. This may put them at risk of choking. Lozenges can provide you with some temporary relief from the pain and irritation of the infected tonsils. So if you need some immediate relief from the associated pain then the lozenges should prove effective.
- Gargle using warm water with salt - This helps relieve pain and reduce the infection. The salt helps kill bacteria, making it an effective ally against infections. Baking soda is another great addition. It is another bacteria killer and will make your concoction extra potent. Mix 1 cup of warm water with ¼ teaspoon of baking soda and ⅛ teaspoon of salt. Swish every three hours or as needed.
- Drink honey with lime or lemon - Dilute honey in warm water, then add a squeeze of lime or lemon, depending on your preference. Honey is a natural antibiotic. It helps your body fight the germs invading your system. Meanwhile, lemon and lime are excellent sources of vitamin C.
- Load up on vitamin C - Take vitamin C supplements or choose foods that are rich in vitamin C such as kiwi, strawberries, oranges, grapefruit, and papaya. You may be surprised, but you can also get vitamin C from veggies. Try bell peppers, kale, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and broccoli.
- Peppermint - This herb has antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. Drink some peppermint tea, which can be hot or cold. You can also use a spray that contains peppermint oil. Its minty taste will work wonders on your sore throat.
- Relax with chamomile tea - This tea is also a great remedy for pain and inflammation. As an added bonus, it also helps reduce stress and anxiety. With just one cup, you may even forget that your throat hurts. It also works well as the base for a honey-lemon or lime combo instead of water.
- Juice your veggies - The combination of beetroot, carrot, and cucumber is a great power-up for your immune system. Drink it freshly squeezed for best results. You can also drink these veggies as separate juices.
- Rub on fig balms - When made into a paste, figs can relieve rashes and redness. It also provides some pain relief. All you have to do is to boil some fresh figs and then grind them into a paste. Apply on your throat generously.
- Ever heard of alum powder? Dilute alum powder with water and gargle with it. It works similarly to salt. You can also apply the powder on the surface of your tonsils. This is not only effective in reducing inflammation, but also in preventing further infections.
- Discover fenugreek seeds - This is an excellent cure for tonsillitis because of its antibacterial properties. Just boil the seeds in water for half an hour. Strain the seeds and set aside the water to cool. Use the water for gargling.
If your condition doesn’t improve and lasts for several days, play on the safe side and consult a doctor. Some tonsillitis cases can be stubborn and require antibiotics or other types of medications.
Swollen Tonsil Treatment
The simplest and easiest treatment for swollen tonsils is to head on over to the pharmacy and get a couple of over-the-counter medications. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) would be effective in reducing the swelling and relieving pain.
When tonsillitis is caused by a strep bacteria, it is treated with an antibiotic. Doctors usually prescribe amoxicillin or penicillin. Strep throat can actually go away on its own, but doctors will prescribe an antibiotic as a preventive measure. When a strep throat is not treated immediately, it can cause rheumatic fever and other complications.
If a doctor prescribes antibiotics to treat your tonsillitis, make sure to take your medications exactly as indicated. Ensure that you don’t miss a dose and that you take your medications on time. When antibiotics are not taken properly, it may cause the bacteria to develop resistance against the medication, which is dangerous since the infection becomes harder to treat. In such cases, stronger antibiotics are required.
However, if the doctor determines that your tonsillitis is caused by a viral infection instead of bacteria, antibiotics won’t work. Typically, viral infections are left to resolve on their own. The body is just strengthened with good nutrition and health practices. In cases such as these, be sure to avoid giving aspirin to kids below the age of 16. Aspirin has been observed to have an adverse effect when taken for viral infections. Such combination causes Reye's syndrome, which is a rare and serious disease.
My tonsils are swollen but I feel no pain
There are cases wherein a person has swollen tonsils but doesn't experience pain. In this case, it may not be necessary to apply any treatment as the condition may go away on its own. If you are concerned, you may visit a doctor to confirm whether treatment is necessary. It is not counterintuitive or useless because there are cases of strep throat infections where the tonsils would swell without pain.
When to See a Doctor
If you are experiencing any type of discomfort or irregularity in your body, it is generally a good idea to see a doctor. Unfortunately, due to cost considerations, medical consultation is not the first choice. While it is true that tonsillitis is a common disease and may improve on its own, it is important to know when it becomes necessary to see a doctor.
If you notice any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention right away:
- If you have had a sore throat accompanied by swollen, tender glands, or rashes for more than 48 hours.
- If you are under antibiotic treatment, but without improvement after two days.
- If you are having a difficulty in breathing or swallowing--this may mean that your tonsils have swollen so much that they are already blocking your airway.
- If you are running a fever of over 101 degrees Fahrenheit or 38.3 degrees Celcius for two days.
- If you experience pain or swelling in your joints with fever, rash, and breathlessness, even three weeks after your strep throat--this may be indicative of rheumatic fever.
- If your urine is dark or cola-colored for over a week--this may be a symptom of a kidney inflammation called poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis.