The tonsils are masses of lymphatic tissue located at the back of the throat. They produce antibodies designed to help your child fight respiratory infections. When these tissues themselves become infected, the resulting condition is called tonsillitis.
Tonsillitis most commonly affects children between the ages of three and seven, when tonsils may play their most active infection-fighting role. But as the child grows, the tonsils shrink, and infections become less common. Tonsillitis is usually not serious, unless a tonsillar abscess develops. When this happens, the swelling can be severe enough to block your child's breathing. Secondary ear infections (otitis media) and adenoid problems are other complications.
A very sore throat with red, swollen tonsils; there may be a white discharge or spots on the tonsils.
Swollen and tender lymph nodes in the neck under the jaw.
A low-grade fever and headache accompanying the other symptoms.
For tonsillar abscess:
In addition to inflamed tonsils, severe pain and tenderness around the area of the soft palate, at the roof of the mouth, and difficulty swallowing.
Distinctively muffled speech, as if the child is speaking with a mouthful of mashed potatoes, caused by swelling from the abscess.
Most tonsil infections and tonsillar abscesses in elementary school-age children are caused by the streptococcal bacterium, the same organism that causes strep throat. Cold or influenza (flu) viruses sometimes also cause tonsillitis.
To check your child's tonsils, place the handle of a spoon on her tongue and ask the child to say "aaahhh" while you direct a light on the back of her throat. If the tonsils look bright red and swollen, call your pediatrician.
Tonsillectomy, the surgical removal of the tonsils, is performed much less frequently today than in years past. Doctors now generally recommend the operation only in serious cases, such as when tonsillar abscess is a recurring problem. If surgery is performed, your child may need to be hospitalized for a day or two and her throat will be sore for four or five days.
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