Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils and a common ailment, particularly among Adelaide children up to 14 years of age.

It presents most often between the ages of four and seven when children are first exposed to pre-school and school.

It is the fifth-most common reason children see a doctor and is responsible for more than 550,000 visits per year in Australia.

Tonsils are oval-shaped flaps that sit either side of the back of the throat.

They are part of the body’s immune system and are rich in white blood cells.

Tonsils help to protect against sickness by fighting germs that enter the body via the mouth and nose.

Sometimes, the tonsils themselves become infected by a virus or bacteria, leading to tonsillitis.

But how do you know if you or your child has tonsillitis and not just a “sore throat” from another winter nasty?

Causes of tonsillitis

The first thing to understand about tonsillitis is that it may be caused by either a virus or less commonly by bacteria.

Around 30% of children and 15% of adults present with bacterial tonsillitis which can trigger serious complications if left untreated including middle ear infections, scarlet fever and rheumatic fever.

A bacterial infection, often caused by the streptococcus bacteria, may be more severe than a viral infection but is likely to respond to a course of antibiotics.

A viral infection normally occurs in the aftermath of a cold or flu.

While tonsillitis itself is not contagious, the viruses and bacteria which cause it are.

Symptoms of tonsillitis

There are a range of symptoms which may indicate tonsillitis.

The most obvious is a sore throat which commonly is accompanied by pain when swallowing.

Swollen tonsils showing white dots or pockets of pus are a telltale sign of tonsillitis. 

Other common symptoms include:

  • a fever or temperature above 38C
  • coughing
  • headache
  • earache or pain around the ears
  • sore lymph nodes (situated below the jaw and either side of the throat)
  • bad breath

Diagnosis of tonsillitis

Your doctor will conduct a thorough examination looking for a number of signs that indicate tonsillitis including:

  • observing the tonsils, ears and nose for signs of infection
  • Using a stethoscope to listen to the patient’s breathing
  • Checking for swollen lymph nodes
  • Looking for a rash called scarlatina which would indicate scarlet fever, the same bacterial infection that causes ’strep throat’
  • Checking for an enlarged spleen which may suggest mononucleosis or ‘glandular fever’ rather than tonsillitis, more common seen around the ages of 15-17.

Throat swab – If tonsillitis is suspected, the kind of infection may be determined with a throat swab which can confirm if bacteria is present.

Complete blood cell count (CBC) – if bacterial tonsillitis is ruled out, a simple blood test may be required to determine the cause of the infection. This test counts the levels of the different types of blood cells.

Treatment of tonsillitis

While antibiotics are likely to be prescribed to treat bacterial tonsillitis, they will not help recovery from viral tonsillitis.

Instead, much of the same principles for treating a bad cold or flu apply.

  • Take paracetamol to ease headache and fever
  • Get lots of sleep and rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Gargle regularly with salt water
  • Use throat lozenges, ice blocks or ice chips to ease sore throats

Surgery for tonsillitis

In rare cases, a tonsillectomy may be recommended to treat chronic tonsillitis.

This will only be considered if the patient has suffered severe and repeat bouts of tonsillitis.

If you have tonsillitis, book an appointment in Seaford

Observing basic hygiene principles including regularly washing your hands, particularly before eating or touching your face, is one of the best safeguards you can make against contracting tonsillitis.

Avoiding sharing food and drinks to reduce the risks of coming into contact with someone who is infected is also a solid practice.

But these lessons may be taught but are not so often observed by young children.

If you suspect you or your child may have tonsillitis, the first thing you should do is book an appointment with your GP so you can be assessed and diagnosed by a medical professional.

This is particularly important in the event you are dealing with bacterial tonsillitis which can morph into more serious diseases.

Once properly diagnosed, your GP can advise you on the best course of action to aid your recovery, as well as potentially prescribing antibiotics if necessary.

Book an appointment here today at either our Seaford Road Day and Night Clinic or our Seaford Meadows Day and Night Clinic.