Tonsils are located in the back of the throat and easily catch bits of food and other substances that may pass through the throat.
When these food substances remain in the tonsils they may become infected and turn into tonsil stones which are white or yellow chunks that may be of varying sizes.
These stones are harmless unless they become infected as well. The bits of food may readily become infected and start to create health issues that may cause a tonsil infection.
Tonsil stones may sometimes be removed via gargling or touching the stone with a cotton swab. Never use a sharp object to remove tonsil stones as this could injure the back of the throat.
Usually tonsil stones can be easily removed but if they don’t easily dislodge then see a doctor. Sometimes the stones are deeply embedded in pockets in the tonsils and trying to remove them will only push them further into the throat causing more issues.
Essentially, if gargling won’t’ remove them, see a doctor. Many will go away on their own, or when a person coughs really hard as well.
The most common cause of tonsil stones is really poor oral health. Other than that they could be caused by poor hydration, poor diet, regular alcohol intake and smoking.
Other issues that may cause tonsil infections are sinus infections that may drain down the back of the throat and cause the tonsils to become infected as well. These infections can be mild to serious depending on how long they go on and the type of bacteria that is causing the infection.
Strep throat can also cause a tonsil infection as well as Epstein Barr virus. If Epstein Barr is the cause of the tonsilitis, it may turn into mononucleosis (often dubbed the kissing disease since it’s passed by saliva which is exchanged in kissing).
The tonsils work as part of the lymphatic system in the body to help infections stop in one location without continuing on to the rest of the body.
Infections in Children
Tonsil infections are very common in children from preschool age into the mid-teens. If the child continues to get serious tonsil infections the doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy and have the tonsils removed.
This is a day procedure and the doctor will put the child under a mild anesthesia and remove the tonsils. Sometimes, the adenoids are also removed at the same time.
The child will then have a sore throat for a few days afterward and after that, they are typically fine.
Types of Tonsil Infections
Many people have suffered from tonsil infections off and on all of their life. The infections may be a sign that the person has a lowered immune system or that they are simply more prone to throat infections.
Doctors categorize tonsillitis into two main categories. There is recurrent tonsillitis in which the patient will have tonsillitis a few times per year, and there is chronic tonsillitis in which the patient seems to have tonsillitis all of the time.
Signs of these both include tender lymph nodes in the neck, chronic sore throats, bad breath. The bad breath is caused by the infection lingering in the tonsils and the yellow or white tonsil stones beginning to decay and cause serious bad breath.
Symptoms of Tonsil Infections
Symptoms of tonsil infections will vary depending on the person, the type of infection present, and the condition of the tonsils.
Typically, the tonsils will become inflamed and grow larger. The person may experience difficulty in swallowing and they may have a scratchy to a very sore throat. As the condition progresses the person may feel lethargic, have a headache or overall body aches, neck pain, throat pain, and earaches.
You could also feel pain in your ears as they share similar nerve pathways as your tonsils.
Many people seek medical attention if a sore throat lasts longer than 2 days. This is the recommendation of most doctors. Other signs that it’s time to see a doctor are when they include neck or muscle stiffness, a fever over 103.1, and if the tonsils are so swollen that the person can barely swallow.
A doctor may or may not give the patient an antibiotic. This will be dependent on what the cause of the infection is. Antibiotics are prescribed if the patient has a bacterial infection in their throat.
It’s important that a patient who is prescribed antibiotics take the entire course of antibiotics.
The antibiotics will continue to work in the patient’s body for several days to a week or longer after the last antibiotic is taken. If the patient has severe tonsillitis, and it’s happened several times in a year, the doctor will usually recommend a tonsillectomy.
Home treatment for tonsillitis includes gargling with warm salt water several times per day. This can help rid the tonsils of tonsil stones, and rid the body of the infection. Be sure to spit the salt water out after gargling, don’t swallow it as this may spread the infection further in the body, and it may also cause vomiting.
Suck on lozenges to keep the throat moistened. Avoid smoke, drink plenty of liquids (hot or cold depending on what feels best on the throat) and avoid dairy products (these tend to coat the throat and cause more issues in the long run). A humidifier used in the home or a bedroom may help to reduce the dryness in the air and ease the throat pain as well.
Also, avoid smoke.
The patient should also get plenty of rest, avoid talking to reduce the irritation to the throat and stay hydrated as much as possible. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen may help ease the pain and reduce inflammation, as well as chamomile tea.
If the above measures don’t provide relief within a few short days it’s time to go to the doctor and consider antibiotics or a tonsillectomy. The doctor will advise the patient of their options and may also have more recommendations of ways to reduce the continuing infections.
Taking care of oneself during tonsillitis is important and will go far in helping to reduce the incidence of infection and the spread.
It’s contagious so be sure that no one is sharing utensils or drinking glasses. Use tissues that can be burned or thrown away after use and avoid the person sharing the same towels with others.
Proper hand washing is a must to avoid the spread of tonsillitis.