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Management of Tonsillitis

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There are two small glands on either side of the back of our throat called tonsils. Tonsils produce antibodies and serve as one of the first lines of defence against many germs. When these tonsils get infected, we call it tonsillitis.

Tonsillitis is quite common, especially among children. Adults may suffer from it too. The infection of the gland can be viral or bacterial. Usually, it is self-limiting and goes away after a couple of weeks.

Viral tonsillitis is usually mild and does not require any treatment. However, in about 15 per cent of the cases, the causative organism is a bacteria, most commonly something from the streptococcus family. They may need more intensive treatment.

Generally, tonsillitis causes pain, sore throat, fever, smelly breath and sometimes visible pus on the tonsils. If it is bacterial, typical features include high fever, swollen lymph nodes in the neck and white or yellow covering on the tonsils. These patients don’t have a cough.

For bacterial tonsilitis, the doctor often prescribes antibiotics, as is necessary. It must be ensured that the patient is taking the medicines as prescribed and completes the full course, even if he/she feels better after a few days.

There are also some things we can practice to alleviate tonsilitis. One is gargling. This can reduce the sore throat and swelling. Mix 5 ml or 1teaspoon of salt in warm water, then gargle once every hour.

We should also keep the patient hydrated. Drinking plenty of water, tea, soup or juice is advisable. This can help soothe the throat.

Active or passive smoking has to be avoided at all costs. If someone is a smoker and his/her child is suffering from tonsilitis, it is best to stop immediately. For adult tonsilitis patients who smoke, this may be a good time to let go of it.

Sometimes the doctor may recommend that the tonsils be removed surgically. This surgery is called a tonsillectomy, and there are certain situations when the doctor may go for it.

If the patient suffers from frequent episodes of tonsilitis at least 3-5 times a year, he/she may be a candidate for the surgery.

Sometimes the episodes are not frequent, but the symptoms are severe and significantly affect everyday life, or for children, the swelling of the throat, preventing of proper nutrition, and hampering eating are all criteria for tonsillectomy.

In children, another reason for doing tonsillectomy is to treat snoring. This is a consequence of enlarged tonsils. Sometimes the problem goes away as the child gets elder. The doctor will have to assess which approach works best for the child. 

Following tonsillectomy, some precautions must be taken. Bed rest is advisable for at least a week, so no work or school.

Intense exercise should be avoided for some time, as well as crowded places to minimise the risk of getting infected.

Sour drinks, e.g. citrus fruit juices, spicy food etc. can cause irritation at the site of surgery. So it is best to avoid those for approximately 10 days.

Taking any medication without the advice of the doctor during this time is also not recommended.

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