If you have never had tonsillitis then you should count yourself among the lucky ones. Because few things are as irritating as not being able to do simple things like swallow food or even spittle, due to the pain that comes with it. The worst part about tonsillitis is that you cannot always treat it at home, you need antibiotics, and strong ones at that.
Tonsillitis is the inflammation of the tonsils, two oval-shaped pads of tissue at the back of the throat. The tonsils are part of the body’s immune system. Because of their location at the throat and palate, they can stop germs from entering the body through the mouth or the nose. The tonsils also contain a lot of white blood cells, which are responsible for killing germs. However, the tonsil’s immune system function declines after puberty — a factor that may account for the rare cases of tonsillitis in adults.
Inflamed tonsils are painful and extremely uncomfortable. Tonsilitis can put you on bed rest, and that’s why you must know to diagnose it in good time. If left untreated, the abscess pops, and the infection may spread to the chest and lead to pneumonia. This, then, becomes life-threatening.
Cause of tonsillitis
Tonsillitis is most often caused by common viruses, but bacterial infections also can be the cause. On the other hand, recurrent tonsillitis is caused by microorganisms (called biofilms) with increased antibiotic resistance, thus causing repeated infections. Genetics may also be a reason for recurrent tonsillitis.
Signs and symptoms
If you have previously suffered tonsillitis, you are likely familiar with many of the signs and symptoms. One of the most common signs is a white or yellow coating on the tonsils, an indication of bacteria.
Here are other common signs and symptoms:
- Red, swollen tonsils
- Sore throat
- Difficult or painful swallowing
- Enlarged, tender glands (lymph nodes) in the neck
- A scratchy, muffled, or throaty voice
How people get tonsillitis
The viruses and bacteria carrying tonsillitis are highly contagious, and for this reason, you must be extra careful. Some of the common ways include:
- Sharing utensils, food, or drink
- Coming into close contact with someone who is sick
- Touching a contaminated surface and then touching your nose or mouth
- Inhaling tiny particles that become airborne when a sick person sneezes or coughs.
Debunking the myth that tonsillitis is purely caused by too much sugar
You have probably heard of this myth. People automatically assume that when you get tonsillitis it is a result of too much sugar. Well, to some extent they have a point, but not entirely. Sugar is a super acidic food that causes havoc with the body’s acid-base balance. Pathogens (infectious agents) love an acid environment and thrive on such imbalances in the body. It also compromises immune function. There is, however, no scientific evidence to show that tonsillitis is directly caused by sugar.
In order to prevent tonsillitis from occurring, there are a few things that you can do. Firstly, wash your hands often and thoroughly, and especially when you are touching especially before touching your nose or mouth.
Secondly, avoid sharing utensils, food, or drink with people. While the pandemic has made it rather obvious that we need to minimize physical contact, there are other illnesses that can be spread through this, and tonsillitis is one of them.
Thirdly, avoid caffeine, alcohol, processed, sugary foods, and spicy foods, which contribute to mucus production and increase tonsil inflammation.
Simple ways to reduce tonsillitis at home
Before going to a doctor, you may want to treat tonsillitis with some home remedies. In some instances, where the case is mild, it is possible to fully treat it by yourself. Here are a few ways you can do so:
1. Drink warm fluids to soothe the sore throat.
2. Gargle with warm salty water which helps to reduce inflammation and even treat infections in some instances.
3. Avoid straining your voice. Swelling in the throat can cause the voice to become muffled. It may be tempting to counter this by raising the voice, but doing so risks further throat irritation.
4. Increase the humidity indoors. Dry air can further irritate a sore throat. Either invest in a proper humidifier or make a DIY one using a bowl of searing hot water.
5. Get plenty of rest, because resting allows the body to fight off the viral or bacterial infection. So take a break from school or work, and just rest.
6. Lozenges. According to Medical News Today, you can use some throat lozenges to soothe the throat. Some throat lozenges contain anaesthetic medications or contain anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling and inflammation. One of the benefits of throat lozenges is that they deliver pain relief directly to the site of inflammation. Some lozenges also contain antiseptic agents. These help target the bacteria responsible for bacterial tonsillitis. Please note that they are not safe for young kids because they may chock the child. Also some may contain other ingredients that are not suitable for young children.
Diagnosis and treatment
Like mentioned earlier, tonsillitis symptoms are usually rather obvious. However, this may not enough to lead to a diagnosis. Your doctor may take a throat culture by gently swabbing the back of your throat. The culture will be sent to a laboratory to identify the cause of your throat infection. Your doctor may also take a sample of your blood for a complete blood count. This test can show whether your infection is viral or bacterial, which may affect your treatment options.
When it comes to treatment, a mild case of tonsillitis doesn’t necessarily require treatment, especially if a virus, such as a cold, causes it. Treatments for more severe cases of tonsillitis may include antibiotics or a tonsillectomy, which is a surgery to remove the tonsils.
While a tonsillectomy may reduce or do away with instances of tonsillitis, it is important to note that studies have found that adults who had their tonsils removed as children had increased risks of respiratory and infectious diseases long term.