What is acute tonsillitis?

Acute tonsillitis is a sudden case of inflammation or swelling in the tonsils. These organs are located at the back of the throat. Each person usually has two of these oval-shaped structures. Enlarged or swollen tonsils can often be detected by a doctor after a visual inspection of the throat. Although anyone can get tonsillitis, it usually affects young children.

A person can develop acute tonsillitis when viruses and bacteria enter the body. Most commonly, it is a viral infection such as a cold or flu that leads to illness. The tonsils are usually equipped to help the body fight germs and bacteria, however, they may become overwhelmed by bacterial growth. When this happens, a tonsil infection can occur. It is possible for the infection to spread to other organs in the throat, such as the pharynx, which can cause a further infection known as pharyngitis.

Most people with acute tonsillitis will have a sore throat. There may also be a significant amount of throat and neck pain. As a complication of swollen tonsils and a sore throat, swallowing can be quite difficult. Some people can become very hoarse or even lose their voice. Another symptom of this condition can be bad breath.

Due to the inflammation in the throat, an individual with tonsillitis may lose their appetite. This may be due to not feeling hungry or pain associated with trying to swallow. Other symptoms of tonsillitis may include a stiff neck, fever, fatigue, and headache. Young children and infants may show additional symptoms such as irritability, unwillingness to breastfeed, and abdominal pain.

A throat swab may be done to diagnose acute tonsillitis. When this is done, a doctor will collect secretions from the back of the throat using a long, sterile swab. This is generally considered a painless procedure, although some nausea may be induced by placing the swab down the throat. A blood test may also be done to diagnose tonsillitis. Blood tests may be done to detect whether the infection is bacterial or viral.

Antibiotics are usually prescribed to people with acute tonsillitis caused by a bacterial infection. Commonly, a bacteria known as streptococcus pyogenes can cause this condition and commonly causes strep throat as well. When the cause is a viral infection, antibiotics may not be prescribed. Instead, doctors may recommend that the patient drink plenty of fluids, rest, and take pain relievers to reduce a sore throat and fever. If the tonsils are so swollen that breathing is compromised or if the condition becomes chronic, they may need to be removed surgically.

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