Tonsils are a pair of lymphoid tissues that are located at the back of the throat. They belong to the lymphatic system and help fight infections. Normally, they are pinkish in color. However, sometimes, tonsils become enlarged, red, and irritated when they get infected.
When they are infected, they are covered by a white or yellow film. This condition is called tonsillitis, which can cause a sore throat, swelling of the lymph nodes on the side of the neck, and difficulty swallowing.
What are tonsils?
Tonsils are two round lumps that are situated at the back of the throat. Their function is to stop harmful microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses from invading the nose and mouth. They are at the gateway of the respiratory tract and the digestive tract. All inhaled pathogens or ingested microorganisms encounter them first.
The types of tonsils are:
- Palatine Tonsils - There are two palatine tonsils, which are located in the back of the throat and on each side of the pharynx. They are the only type of tonsils that can be seen when people open their mouth.
- Adenoids - They are located on the roof of the mouth, and are only visible when a rhinoscopy (visual assessment of the nasal cavity) is performed.
- Lingual Tonsil - It is situated far back at the tongue's base.
These tonsils form a tonsillar ring around the area, where the mouth and nasal cavity meet the throat. This particular position allows the tonsils to prevent harmful microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses, to enter the body through the nose or mouth.
If the tonsils are swollen, then it could indicate a number of other infections. These infections could be connected to the upper respiratory system. In some people, enlarged tonsils could be associated with some problems. In tonsillitis, the normal tonsils are inflamed due to infection. Viral and bacterial infections are the most common causes.
Tonsillitis is a very common illness in children. Throughout life, a person can have multiple episodes of tonsillitis along with the following symptoms:
White pus or a yellowish coating appears when the tonsils are infected. Other physical symptoms of tonsillitis include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Ear pain
- Tender or swollen lymph nodes that usually lasts for two days
- Stiff neck
In very young children, symptoms may include fever, drooling, unusual fussiness, and refusal to eat.
- Acute Tonsillitis - This condition is caused by both bacterial and viral infections. It causes a severe sore throat, swelling of the lymph nodes, fever, and swollen tonsils. These symptoms are mostly caused by strep throat, which is a type of bacterial infection. This condition can be treated with the help of antibiotics.
- Chronic Tonsillitis - This condition also causes swelling of the tonsils. It is characterized by a recurring or long-term infection. If a person regularly experiences tonsil infections, a tonsillectomy may be performed to remove the tonsils.
- Tonsillar Abscess - It is a collection of pus behind the tonsils. Treatment involves draining the abscess.
- Tonsil Stones - Compared to a peritonsillar abscess, this condition is more benign. It causes discomfort and swelling. They are stone-like deposits that are whitish or greyish in color and have a foul smell. These stone-like deposits form in the tonsils' crypts or holes.
- Acute Mononucleosis - This condition is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, and causes severe swelling of the tonsils, fatigue, rash, fever, and a sore throat.
- Strep Throat - This is caused by Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. In this condition, the throat and the tonsils are infected. Sore throat is also accompanied by fever and neck pain.
- Enlarged Tonsils - The airway size is reduced due to the enlargement of the tonsils, contributing to sleep apnea or snoring.
- Throat Swab - The doctor will rub a cotton swab on the tonsils and throat, and then send it to the laboratory for testing. It is done to identify any bacterial infections in the throat. Such infections include tonsillitis, strep throat, pneumonia, meningitis, and whooping cough.
- Monospot Test - Certain antibodies can be detected by this blood test. This test is often used for the diagnosis of infectious mononucleosis.
- Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) Antibody Test - If the previous test is negative, then the detection of antibodies against EBV may be helpful to confirm an infectious mononucleosis diagnosis.
- Antibiotics - With the help of antibiotics, tonsillitis can be treated if the infection is caused by bacteria.
- Abscess Drainage - A peritonsillar abscess is punctured using a needle. The infected area is then allowed to heal.
- Tonsillectomy - Surgery may be needed to remove the tonsils if they are too enlarged or when recurrent infections occur.
Steps to Take
See your doctor for treatment if you have swollen tonsils, if you experience discomfort and pain, and if there is a discharge. You may need treatment with antibiotics if there is a bacterial infection. Even though the symptoms improve, you should complete the course of antibiotic treatment.
Even if you have undergone tonsillectomy, your body can still fight infections.
- Wash your hands - Keeping your hands clean is very important since it can help avoid the spread of germs and getting sick. Various diseases and infections are spread due to poor handwashing habits. When washing your hands, make sure that you use soap and clean running water. If you don't have access to soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, which contains at least 60 percent of alcohol.
- Hygiene etiquette - It is very important to cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough to prevent the spread of germs. You can use a tissue every time you cough or sneeze. Don't forget to put the used tissue in a wastebasket. If you don't have a tissue with you, you can use your upper sleeve for cover when you cough or sneeze.
- Drink plenty of water and eat nutritious food - A great germ fighter is your body’s natural defences. They help fight germs that enter your body. Choose nutritious food, and when you drink water, make sure that it is clean, so that your body can live up to its full potential.