What is chronic tonsillitis?

Chronic tonsillitis is a condition in which recurring viral or bacterial infections of the tonsils cause constant swelling and pain. When the tonsils become chronically inflamed, they become swollen and cause significant and persistent pain in the throat and jaw. The condition is most often seen in children and adolescents under the age of 15, although adults can also develop long-lasting tonsil problems. Surgery is necessary in most cases of chronic tonsillitis to relieve symptoms and help prevent future throat infections.

The tonsils are two masses of tissue located on either side of the throat near the jaw. Their exact function is not well understood, but they appear to play a role in preventing throat and respiratory infections. The glands themselves, however, are highly susceptible to infection in children and adults. When the tonsils experience multiple infections, small openings called crypts form in which bacteria can collect. Bacteria that build up over time cause bad breath and set the stage for frequent infections and chronic tonsillitis.

The symptoms associated with chronic tonsillitis are often very uncomfortable. A person is likely to experience difficulty swallowing and a frequent sore throat due to inflammation and swelling. The lower jaw feels sore and very sensitive to the touch, and pain in and below the ears is common. Also, some people suffer from headaches and fevers that last for days at a time. Without treatment, the swelling and infection may become severe enough to cause dangerous constriction of the airways, abscesses in the throat, and chills throughout the body.

A doctor or dentist can usually diagnose chronic tonsillitis by reviewing the patient's medical history and inspecting the tonsils with medical instruments. If he or she has experienced multiple throat infections in the recent past, the tonsils are likely to be significantly damaged and highly susceptible to pathogens. The doctor may use a swab to collect a sample of mucus from a tonsil to confirm the presence of a specific bacteria or virus.

Cases of acute tonsillitis are treated with antibiotics or antiviral medications, but chronic problems do not usually respond to medication. Surgery is usually needed to remove the tonsils and repair the surrounding throat tissue. A tonsillectomy is performed by a surgeon called an otolaryngologist, often in an outpatient clinic or private practice. The procedure only takes about an hour and has a high success rate. By following a special diet, taking antibiotics, and attending checkups, patients often experience full recovery from their symptoms within two months.

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