Tonsillitis in kids

In most cases, tonsillitis isn't very serious condition but can still cause discomfort to your child. It is important to educate yourself about basic facts about this illness.
Tonsillitis in kids
Viktor Simunović, Dr.med.
Dr.med. Viktor Simunović
05 December 2023.

Tonsillitis can be a distressing experience for both the child and their parents. At this time of year, parents must understand the nature of this condition, its symptoms, treatment options, and preventative measures. This knowledge will help them better understand their child's health and contribute to quicker recovery and improved overall well-being.

What are tonsils, and what is their function in the human body?

The tonsils are set lymph nodes in the back of the child's mouth. There are four types of tonsils (adenoid, tubal, palatine, and lingual). Still, the term most commonly refers to the palatine tonsils.

They function as the first line of defense against ingested or inhaled pathogens since they are filled with white blood cells.

Sometimes, they can get swollen, red, and infected. This condition is called tonsil inflammation or tonsillitis.

Tonsillitis symptoms

Typical tonsillitis symptoms are red and swollen tonsils, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, fever, fatigue, bad breath, enlarged lymph nodes around the neck, or white or yellow patches.

Younger children can develop stomach aches because swallowed bacteria can cause irritation of the bowels or can drool due to the inability to swallow.

In rare and most severe cases, bacteria that cause tonsillitis can also cause rheumatic fever. This serious inflammatory condition can affect the heart, joints, and nervous system.

What causes tonsillitis?

Common viruses most often cause tonsillitis, but bacterial infections can also be the cause. The most common bacterium causing tonsillitis is Streptococcus pyogenes (group A streptococcus), which causes strep throat. Other strains of strep and other bacteria also may cause tonsillitis.

Your doctor may use the swab to do a rapid strep test. Within minutes, this test will tell your doctor if there are any strep bacteria in your throat.

How to treat tonsillitis in children?

Plenty of rest can aid in quicker recovery. Make sure your child drinks a lot of fluids. Warm liquids like soup and tea or cold liquids like popsicles may help soothe a sore throat. Medicines like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can relieve pain and reduce fever. Avoid giving aspirin to children.

For older children, throat lozenges and gargling with warm salt water may help soothe a sore throat.

Using a humidifier in your child's room can help to moisten their throat, which might ease swallowing and breathing.

Antibiotics for tonsilitis

Antibiotics can be used for treating tonsillitis if a bacterial infection causes it. Antibiotics, such as penicillin or amoxicillin, are often prescribed for five or ten days.

However, if a viral infection causes tonsillitis, antibiotics are ineffective. A healthcare professional should make the diagnosis and recommend the best treatment.

What to eat with tonsilitis?

Eating soft foods that don't irritate your throat, like soups or broths, is essential when you have tonsillitis. Mashed potatoes, shakes, and puddings are also very soft and easy on irritated throat. Yogurt is an excellent idea because it is soft and cold.

It's important to avoid spicy, acidic, or hard foods that can cause further irritation.

How long is tonsilitis contagious?

When caused by a virus like the flu or a cold, tonsillitis is contagious for about 7-10 days.

When caused by bacteria like Streptococcus pyogenes, it can be contagious for about two weeks. However, suppose the child with tonsillitis starts antibiotics for a bacterial infection. In that case, they generally stop being contagious 24-48 hours after starting the medication.

How does tonsillitis spread?

Tonsillitis is spread from person to person through droplets of saliva or nasal secretions. This can occur when an infected person coughs or sneezes, releasing these droplets and germs into the air, where others can inhale them.

It can also be spread through direct contact, such as kissing or sharing items like utensils, cups, or toothbrushes with an infected person. Additionally, if an infected person touches their mouth or nose and then touches a surface, the bacteria or virus can be picked up by the next person who touches that surface.

When to see a pediatrician if a child has tonsillitis?

You should see a pediatrician if your child has the following symptoms:

  1. Sore throat lasts more than 48 hours

  2. Severe or increasingly severe sore throat

  3. Difficulty swallowing or breathing

  4. Temperature higher than 38°C

  5. Severe weakness, fatigue, or fussiness

  6. Symptoms are recurring

  7. Rash or stomach pain along with sore throat, which could be indicative of strep throat

When should a child remove tonsils?

Tonsilectomy (surgical removal of tonsils) is still common, but it is not used as it was years before. Parents should consider removing their child's tonsils if tonsillitis occurs frequently, if the child has trouble breathing while sleeping, or if the child doesn't respond to other treatments.

The best age to remove tonsils

The best age to remove tonsils depends on the individual case and the severity of the symptoms. However, tonsillectomies are most commonly performed on children between 3 and 7. This is because the tonsils tend to cause the most problems in this age range, and the risks associated with surgery are relatively low.

Strep throat vs. tonsillitis

The throat is sore in both conditions, and the tonsils are inflamed. Still, a specific strain of bacteria always causes strep throat. In contrast, tonsillitis can be caused by many different types of viruses or bacteria.

If a virus causes tonsillitis, it will often go away on its own.

If in doubt, consult a doctor

Watch for symptoms in your child. In most cases, tonsillitis will resolve on its own, but if symptoms persist or become severe, consult a physician. Sometimes he can prescribe antibiotics therapy or even removal of tonsils.

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