Does your child have a sore throat that just keeps coming back? Chronic infection and inflammation of the tonsils could be to blame. Removing the tonsils, known as a tonsillectomy, is a minor surgical procedure that could be necessary to give your child relief.
Signs and Symptoms of Tonsillitis
Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils, the two lumps of immune tissue toward the back of the throat. It’s key symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Pain when swallowing
- Red, swollen tonsils
- Pain in the ears or neck
- Snoring or sleep apnea
It’s estimated that about 2% of all visits to primary care doctors are due to tonsillitis. Most of those visits will be for children between 4 and 7 years old, but chronic tonsillitis can drag on well into teen and adult years. Tonsillitis can be caused by:
- Direct infection of the tonsils
- Infection in the sinuses or ears
- Common colds
- Exposure to irritants like cigarette smoke
Tonsillitis often becomes chronic, especially in children with allergies or weakened immune systems. The tonsils become enlarged repeatedly and for prolonged periods of time. If they aren’t infected to begin with, the swelling can trap pathogens in tonsil tissue and cause a chronic infection to take hold.
If you put tonsil tissue under a microscope, you would see numerous folds called lobes that hold key immune receptors. The folds are designed to trap particles from the air and determine if they’re a threat to the body.
Unfortunately, these folds are also an excellent hiding place for infection. Repeated infections, a compromised immune system, chronic inflammation and other factors can make the body too weak to battle the infection back. It settles in for the long term and flares up from time to time.
Chronic infection has some telltale signs. In addition to all the symptoms of tonsillitis, you may notice:
- Pus spots on the tonsils
- Swollen lymph nodes
Keep in mind that your child’s tonsils don’t have to be swollen for them to have a chronic infection. Tonsils that are weak or damaged may not swell significantly even if your child shows all other symptoms.
Treating Swollen Tonsils
Tonsillectomy was much more common in the past than it is today. In modern practices, the first line of defense against tonsillitis is to treat the underlying cause. Your child’s ENT may recommend things like:
- Antihistamines to combat allergies
- Lifestyle changes, like limiting exposure to secondhand smoke
- A “wait and see” approach while managing symptoms
Children will become naturally less prone to infection as they get older. Their immune systems get stronger and the structures in their bodies spread out, reducing the risk of infection traveling from areas like the ear to the tonsils. If your child’s chronic tonsil concerns aren’t severe, your ENT may help you find ways to manage symptoms until your child simply outgrows the problem.
What About Antibiotics?
Most tonsil infections are caused by viruses and can’t be treated with medication. Antibiotics, which fight bacterial infection, won’t help. Your child’s ENT will likely take throat swabs to test for bacterial infection. It’s an in-office test and the results come back in minutes.
Between 15% and 30% of chronic infection cases are caused by Streptococcus, the strep throat bacteria. If the test comes back positive, antibiotics are the likely course of action. In chronic or severe cases, a long and heavy course of antibiotics may be necessary.
Not all chronic strep responds well to antibiotics, and using antibiotics repeatedly increases the risk of breeding antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In these cases, removing the tonsils is often the best course of action.
When Tonsillectomy is Necessary
Some children experience much more discomfort than the occasional sore throat. Sleep apnea, repeatedly missing school and considerable pain can all lead your ENT to recommend removing your child’s tonsils. Your child’s quality of life matters, and severe tonsillitis hold your child back socially, academically and developmentally.
To determine if your child if your child needs a tonsillectomy, your ENT will assess factors like the severity and frequency of symptoms. He’ll evaluate potential causes and try to determine whether a virus or bacteria is to blame. Surgery, while minor and often outpatient, is a last resort and only recommended immediately in severe cases.
Consistent evaluation can help your child’s doctor determine the right course of action for your child. If your child suffers from chronic sore throats or tonsillitis, call Pediatric ENT of Oklahoma today.