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Tonsillitis is an inflammation of the tonsils, tissue that sits on both sides of the back of the throat. They help in the immune system to protect the body from infections that may enter the body through the mouth. When the tonsils become infected they become enlarged and red, and have a yellow or white coating.

tonsillitis illustration

Tonsil infections may be contagious, and can spread from person to person by contact with the mouth, throat, or mucous of someone who is infected. Tonsillitis symptoms include a sore throat, fever, swollen glands in the neck, and trouble swallowing.

Treating Tonsillitis

Treatment for tonsillitis depends on whether it is caused by a virus or by a bacteria like group A streptococcus bacteria. Doctors usually can't tell the difference just by looking at the tonsils, but can detect strep bacteria with a rapid strep test or a throat culture.

If tonsillitis is caused by a virus, the body will fight off the infection on its own. If it's caused by strep bacteria, the doctor probably will prescribe an antibiotic. If so, make sure that your child completes the full course of treatment to prevent any complications.

For kids who get tonsillitis often (more than 5 to 7 times during a 12-month period) or frequent repeat infections over several years, doctors might recommend a tonsillectomy to remove the tonsils.

Caring for Your Child

Kids with tonsillitis need plenty of nourishment and rest. If swallowing so painful that eating is difficult, try serving liquids and soft foods, like soups, milkshakes, smoothies, ice pops, or ice cream.

Make sure that your child drinks lots of fluids and gets plenty of rest, and take his or her temperature regularly. Use a nonprescription pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, for throat pain. Don't give aspirin or other products that contain aspirin, though, because these can put kids at risk for Reye syndrome, an illness that can have serious complications.

Keep your sick child's drinking glasses and eating utensils separate, and wash them in hot, soapy water. All family members should wash their hands frequently.

If your child starts antibiotic therapy for strep, throw out his or her toothbrush and replace it with a new one a day or two after starting medication.

Preventing Tonsillitis

Try to keep kids away from anyone who already has tonsillitis or a sore throat, and make sure everyone in your family practices good hand-washing.

Reviewed by: Steven P. Cook, MD
Date reviewed: May 2013

 
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Related Resources:
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.
National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) conducts and supports basic and applied research to better understand, treat, and ultimately prevent infectious, immunologic, and allergic diseases.