The tonsils are a pair of tissues in the back of the throat that protect the body from infection by trapping viruses and bacteria. Due to their frequent contact with germs, they are susceptible to infection themselves, a condition known as tonsillitis. This is usually confined to children, since the tonsils’ role as defenders of the immune system declines significantly following the onset of puberty.

How To Tell if Your Child Has Tonsillitis


Tonsillitis most often affects preschool-aged children through those in their mid-teens. There are a number of signs to watch out for, including:

  • Tonsils that are red and/or swollen
  • White or yellow patches on the tonsils
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Muffled voice
  • Bad breath
  • Headache

In younger children, look for excessive drooling, increased irritability, and a refusal to eat.

How is Tonsillitis Treated?

The treatment for Tonsillitis depends on whether it is being caused by a virus or bacteria.

There is no way to tell based upon a visual examination alone, so a rapid strep test or throat culture is usually required. The streptococcus bacterium, the same one responsible for strep throat, is a frequent culprit. Antibiotic therapy (usually penicillin) is the recommended treatment solution for bacterial infections. It is important to take the full course of antibiotics as prescribed even if symptoms improve in order to avoid a relapse that could cause the infection to spread to other parts of the body.

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Viral infections are less serious and should clear up without medical treatment within 7 to 10 days. Home remedies can provide comfort and relief; these include making sure your child receives plenty of rest and fluids. Warm liquids such as soup or broth, and cold treats like popsicles can help soothe the throat and prevent dehydration. A saltwater gargle several times a day will ease discomfort. Using a humidifier will moisten the air and prevent additional throat irritation, and lozenges or over-the-counter medications can be given for pain relief. As always with children, avoid aspirin.

If antibiotics are ineffective or tonsillitis recurs frequently, surgical removal of the tonsils (a procedure known as a tonsillectomy) may be recommended.