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Acute Tonsillitis Acute Tonsillitis
Tonsillitis is another one of those upper respiratory conditions that is more prevalent in winter. Tonsillitis means inflammation of the tonsils, "itis" means... Acute Tonsillitis

by Kimberly Allen, RN

Tonsillitis is another one of those upper respiratory conditions that is more prevalent in winter.  Tonsillitis means inflammation of the tonsils, “itis” means inflammation so when you see “itis” at the end of a word you know that whatever the word it’s inflammed.  Tonsillitis is much more common in children ranging from toddlers to mid teen than adults.

The tonsils are small pouches of tissue on either side of the back of your throat.  The tonsils function is to filter and stop the various germs that try to enter your body through your mouth which helps develop your immune system.  This makes them especially vulnerable to inflammation and infection.  Older teens and adults have stronger more developed immune systems makeing them less susceptible to certain conditions like tonsillitis.

Tonsillitis can be caused by either a virus or a bacteria.  Viral tonsillitis is much more common than bacterial and is usually caused by the influenza virus, rhinovirus, or adenovirus but can also be caused by other viruses including the herpes simplex virus as well as the Epstein Barr virus.  Bacterial tonsillitis is usually caused by group A beta-hemolytic streptococcus known as GABHS.  This same bacteria also causes strep throat.  Tonsillitis can also be caused by other bacteria including staph aureus and MRSA.

The symptoms of tonsillitis can vary depending on the age of your child, the cause and severity of the infection.  The most prominent symptoms are a severe sore throat with difficulty swallowing.  If you look at the back of your childs throat the tonsils will be red and swollen and there may ba a white or yellowish coating on them or small patches.  Your child will usually have a fever and swollen and tender lymph nodes in their neck as well.  Most children will develop a scratchy or muffled voice.  Young children especially those that are unable to tell you how they feel yet will drool more, they simply will not eat which is due to the difficulty swallowing as well as the fact that many young children also have a stomach ache making them resistant to eating.  These young children tend to be unusually fussy as that’s their main form of communication.  If your child has any of the symptoms of tonsillitis it’s important to contact your Dr to
determine the cause because bacterial tonsillitis can lead to complications including rheumatic fever and sydenham’s chorea if left untreated.

Treatment of tonsillitis depends on the cause.  If your child’s tonsillitis is caused by a virus your Dr will not prescribe an antibiotic.  For one thing antibiotics do not kill viruses, and giving
antibiotics when they are not needed increases your childs risk of becoming resistant and developing more serious infections in the future.  If your childs tonsillitis is viral you’ll want to give
him/her lots of luids like warm broth, warm water and honey, as well as cold treats like popcicles and ice cream.  These help both to keep the throat moist making it more comfortable as well as maintain hydration.  Older children can gargle with salt water, 1 teaspoon per 8 ounces of water,  this can be done pretty much as needed for comfort.  You can also give over the counter acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the aches, pains and fever.  Do not give aspirin as this can lead to your child developingReyes syndrome.  If your child’s tonsillitis is caused by a bacterial infection, your Dr will usually prescribe penicillin to be taken by mouth for 10 days.  If your child is allergic to penicillin, your Dr will prescribe an alternative like erythromycin.  The most important thing to remember with antibiotic therapy is that your child must take the entire course of antibiotics even after he/she starts feeling better.  The most common factor leading to complications like rheumatic fever is under treated throat infections.  In other words, the person did not take the entire course of antibiotic treatment.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at