Tonsils are a collection of tissues on each side of the back of your throat. They form part of the immune system in the upper respiratory tract along with adenoids. They resemble the tissue that is situated in the throat behind nose. Due to their location, tonsils get infected easily and the condition is known as tonsillitis.
Dr. Andrew Weil mentions that though tonsillitis mostly occurs in children, it can also occur in adults. In earlier days, adenoids and tonsils were removed in children after their repeated infection. Although it is a very rare procedure these days, doctors may recommend surgery if the infection is chronic.
What Are the Common Signs of Tonsillitis?
The common symptoms of the condition are chills and fever, headache, sore throat, swelling and tenderness in the lymph nodes in neck. Sometimes, tonsils may grow in size and become red with a white patch of pus. It may cause difficulty eating and breathing. The affected person’s voice may become hoarse and sometimes the person may lose his or her voice. Also, a child with tonsillitis may suffer abdominal pain. A bacterial disease like strep throat can be differentiated with a viral infection if there is a lack of the symptoms of cold, such as runny nose, cough, pink eyes and hoarseness. The only way to detect which type of throat infection has developed in a child is a throat culture test or strep test.
Even though strep throat is a mild illness, it may also cause serious health conditions if you suffer from it later in the life. In exceptional cases, it may result in an autoimmune reaction, such as rheumatic fever, which can affect heart, kidneys and joints and may also cause permanent damage to heart, particularly the valves. It can also lead to decrease in the renal function. Though it is a very rare condition which can be caused by untreated streptococcal disease of throat, you cannot tell when and who will get affected by this serious condition. For this reason, it needs immediate analysis and treatment.
If left untreated, it may lead to accumulation of pus in the tonsil and soft tissues surrounding it. This may occur in a large part of soft palate. There is a very rare chance that it may spread into bloodstream, or in the chest or neck.
What Causes Tonsillitis?
Adenoids and tonsils can get infected by virus and bacteria due to their location. They function by filtering the foreign particles entering through the mouth and nose, engulfing them with the help of white blood cell (WBC). This action typically does not show any symptom or reaction. However, when immune reaction is extremely uncontrollable, it may give rise to inflammatory patterns which is related to swelling, irritation, redness and white patches or dots of pus.
Mostly, tonsillitis is caused by viruses including coxsackievirus and adenovirus and viruses that cause mono- like-illness such as Ebstein-Barr virus (EBV) and cytomegalovirus (CMV).
In some cases, tonsillitis can be caused by bacterial infection. If an infection is due to a certain type of bacteria, it is called strep throat. Approximately 15% of strep throat infection occurs in all tonsillitis cases. There are some other less frequent occurring bacterial infections related to tonsils which are caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Corynebacterium haemolvyticus, Corynbacterium diphtheriae, Neisseria gonnorrhoeae and Chlamydia trachomitis. Other forms of streptococci (i.e., groups C, G, and F) may also cause this infection.
Conventional Treatment of Tonsillitis
Viral tonsillitis is treated with self-care treatments in order to get relief from the symptoms. However, bacterial and strep throat infections required antibiotics like amoxicillin or penicillin. A course of 10 days (amoxicillin) or more is required to be completed. Other antibiotics with a shorter course period of five to seven days are also effective. If treated properly, the infected individual may feel better within one or two days of medication. It is important to complete the course of antibiotic, as terminating the medication may lead to the reoccurrence of the infection and may cause complications. If left untreated, the bacterial infection may cause harm to both the kidneys and the heart.
It is advisable for the patients who are detected with positive results for bacterial infection or strep throat to go through 24 hours of antibiotic treatment before getting back to work. If swallowing of medicines becomes difficult, injections can be given. In such cases, steroid treatment may be recommended to lessen the swelling.
Even though surgery is not considered as the regular treatment for tonsillitis, tonsillectomy (removal of tonsils) may be prescribed under certain circumstances. It is exceptionally required for adults and has more chances of complications. If a child health is affected badly with the infections or he or she is facing significant problems in hearing, speaking, or breathing at night, then surgery may be recommended during childhood. Surgery is advisable for children who had seven or more throat infections within a year, five cases of strep throat per year for two years, three or more infections each year over a span of three years.
Tonsils surgery may also be recommended when lesions do not recover from antibiotics or if the infection is obstructing the air passage leading to difficulty breathing.
A tonsillectomy requires minimum observation or intervention. Most patients can go home at the same day of the surgery. Ear and throat pain after the surgery can be severe but it can be relieved with analgesics and ice packs.
For the first few days, patients have to follow a liquid diet and soft foods. However, patients may slowly come back to their normal diet. The occurrence of bleeding maybe a complication as it can increase the chances of infections. So, try to avoid the crowd and people suffering from the infection for a week.
Dr. Weil’s Recommendations for Tonsillitis
Since respiratory secretions can get any surface and spread tonsillitis, Dr. Andrew Weil suggests that regular hand washing is necessary to avoid the risk of developing infection. Ask your children to wash their hands frequently. Other precautions include covering your mouth while coughing, avoid sharing utensils and glasses, and avoiding close contact with anyone who is suffering from an infection. It is recommended to discard the toothbrushes of persons who are suffering from the bacterial infection.
Although the majority of tonsil infection is of viral origin and its treatment includes supportive therapy, antibiotics are used for the treatment of bacterial infections. To reduce the chances of throat infection, boost your immune system with astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous), a Chinese herb which is available in the form of capsules or in tincture form.
Dr. Andrew Weil suggests that children should be given half the dose that is given to an adult. This herb is considered safe for frequent use. He also suggests gargling with the solution containing hydrogen peroxide and half warm water or doing it with hot saline water few times a day.