If you have ever experienced a soreness and swelling in the back of your throat you may have swollen tonsils. Before determining whether or not your tonsils are swollen, it’s useful to understand where tonsils are located, what they are and their role in your overall health.
Tonsils are part of the immune system and are two round masses of tissue that sit at the back of the throat on either side. If you open your mouth widely, you can normally see your tonsils when looking in a mirror.
Tonsils act like filters and prevent infection by stopping germs from entering through the mouth and nose. They also produce antibodies to fight infection. If the tonsils themselves become infected then they turn red in colour, become inflamed and sore. This is known as tonsillitis and occurs most often in children.
Other symptoms of tonsillitis may include:
- White or yellow coating or patches on the tonsils
- Painful blisters or ulcers on the throat
- Scratchy voice or loss of voice
- Enlarged, tender glands (lymph nodes) in the neck
- Loss of appetite
- Ear pain
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing through the mouth
- Bad breath
Typically symptoms become worse over the period of 2-3 days and then gradually go away within 7-10 days. Tonsillitis is contagious and mostly caused by viruses such as the common cold and sometimes caused by bacterial infection such as strep throat. To determine if the infection is caused by bacteria or a virus, your doctor will perform a throat swab culture and have the swab tested at the lab to detect bacterial infection.
If tonsillitis is caused from a bacterial infection them an antibiotic can be prescribed by your doctor. If the infection is a virus then your body will fight off the infection on its own.
Regardless of the cause of infection, there are things you can do to feel better:
- Take lozenges to numb the pain
- Drink warm or very cold fluids to ease throat pain
- Eat smooth and liquid foods
- Gargle with warm salt water
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
- Get plenty of rest
If you experience recurring tonsillitis, then it might be recommended to have tonsillectomy performed. Tonsillectomy is surgery to remove the tonsils and had been a common childhood operation but is now not as frequently performed. If you have found that treatments are ineffective, have recurring strep throat, have large tonsils that obstruct your airway or develop cancer on a tonsil then you might be advised to have your tonsils removed.
As with any contagious virus or bacteria, to reduce your odds of getting tonsillitis it’s helpful to wash your hands frequently, avoid interaction with people who have infections. If you have tonsillitis and are contagious, do your best to stay away from other and wash your hands frequently.