Tonsillitis is an inflammation of the tonsils, the fleshy clusters of tissue on both sides of the back of the throat that fight off germs that enter the body through the mouth. The tonsils become enlarged and red, and have a yellow or white coating.
Most types of tonsillitis are contagious, spreading from person to person by contact with the throat or nasal fluids of someone who is infected. Tonsillitis symptoms include a sore throat, fever, swollen glands in the neck, and trouble swallowing.
Treatment for tonsillitis depends on whether it is caused by a virus or by 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 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.
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.
If your child has symptoms of tonsillitis, call your doctor.
Reviewed by: Steven P. Cook, MD
Date reviewed: June 2010