What is tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is an inflammation of the tonsils, masses of lymphatic tissue found in the throat. In addition to the tonsils that can be clearly seen hanging at the back of the throat, people also have tonsils near the roof of the mouth known as adenoids, both of which can become inflamed. There are a number of causes for tonsillitis and a variety of treatment approaches.

The tonsils are designed to help the immune system. They trap immune invaders in the mouth before they can enter the rest of the body, acting as a first line of defense to prevent infection. This trait can also make them very vulnerable to infection, as they can fight off low-level infections on a regular basis, especially in children, because children are often in environments that expose them to a wide range of bacteria and viruses.

Most often, bacteria or viruses infect the tonsils, although tonsillitis can also be caused by fungi and parasites. When infected, the tonsils begin to swell and may develop white patches or a pus-like discharge. The patient usually has a sore throat, bad breath, and a general feeling of being unwell. In some cases, the tonsils become so swollen that it is difficult to breathe or the patient has trouble sleeping soundly.

A doctor can diagnose tonsillitis by looking at the patient's mouth and noting that the tissue is obviously inflamed. The doctor may also swab the tonsils in order to prepare a culture to see what caused the infection. Historically, the answer to tonsillitis was surgery to remove the tissue. This is not so common today, except in cases of chronic or very severe tonsillitis. Instead, the patient receives pain medication and antibiotics, if the infection can be treated with antibiotics.

With basic treatment, tonsillitis can go away in a week or so. Patients sometimes find that salt water gargling speeds up the recovery process and relieves pain, and may find that their diets become restricted to soft foods or liquids when the tonsils are extremely inflamed. After recovering from a bout of tonsillitis, the patient may never experience problems again or it may happen again. If multiple recurrences occur or the tonsillitis weakens, surgery will be recommended.

The organisms that cause tonsillitis are contagious and can be passed from person to person. People should observe basic sanitation, such as handwashing and not sharing dishes to prevent the spread of illnesses of all kinds, including those that cause tonsil infections, and people with active infections should be encouraged to cover their mouths when cough and wash your hands. regularly so that they do not transmit infectious agents.

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