What is Tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis refers to the swelling and inflammation of the tonsils.
The tonsils are two masses that dangle above and behind the tongue - one on either side. On the surface of the tonsils are tiny crypts that may contain pus or stones. It is believed that the tonsils, in partnership with the adenoids located behind the nose and soft palate, are part of the body's defense mechanism against bacteria and viruses. Specifically, the tonsils produce white blood cells. After puberty, the tonsils' immunity role declines. This is why many adults who haven't had their tonsils removed as a child rarely experience tonsillitis.
Tonsillitis is contagious and can spread through air droplets containing the virus or bacteria.
Types of Tonsillitis
There are two kinds of tonsillitis: acute and chronic.
Acute tonsillitis refers to a sudden or gradual sore throat, which is usually associated with a fever. A patient may refrain from swallowing saliva, being drooling, report ear pain with swallowing, and have bad breath. The tonsils may appear bright red or show white spots. This condition can be caused by either bacteria or viruses.
One such type of bacteria is streptococcus. Streptococcus pyogenes (Group A streptococcus) causes most cases of strep throat, though "only about 30 percent of tonsillitis in children is caused by strep throat and only about 10 percent of tonsillitis in adults is caused by strep throat" (www.emedicinehealth.com). It is important that strep infections be treated promptly as it can damage the heart valves (rheumatic fever) and kidneys, and lead to scarlet fever, sinusitis, pneumonia, as well as ear infections.
When examining a patient for tonsillitis, in addition to a throat swab for strep, a doctor will also evaluate for acute mononucleosis caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. In this case the swelling of the tonsils, adenoids, and lymph nodes do not respond to the traditional antibiotics.