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Tonsillitis is swelling and irritation of the tonsils, lumps of tissue that sit on both sides of the back of the throat. The tonsils help in the immune system to protect the body from infections that may enter through the mouth. When the tonsils become infected they become enlarged and red, and have a yellow or white coating.
Tonsil infections may be contagious. They can spread from person to person by contact with the mouth, throat, or mucus of someone who is infected. A person with tonsillitis may have a sore throat, fever, swollen glands in the neck, and trouble swallowing.
Treatment for tonsillitis depends on whether it is caused by a virus or by bacteria like group A streptococcus bacteria. Doctors usually can't tell the difference just by looking at the tonsils, but can detect strep bacteria with a rapid strep test or a throat culture.
If tonsillitis is caused by a virus, the body will fight off the infection on its own. If it's caused by strep bacteria, the doctor probably will prescribe an antibiotic. If so, make sure that your child completes the full course of treatment.
For kids who get tonsillitis often (more than 6 times during a 12-month period) or frequent repeat infections over several years, doctors might recommend a tonsillectomy to remove the tonsils.
Caring for Your Child
Kids with tonsillitis need plenty of nourishment and rest. If swallowing is so painful that eating is difficult, try serving liquids and soft foods, like soups, milkshakes, smoothies, ice pops, or ice cream.
Make sure that your child drinks lots of fluids and gets plenty of rest. Use a nonprescription pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, for throat pain. Don't give aspirin or other products that contain aspirin, though, because these can put kids at risk for Reye syndrome, an illness that can have serious complications.
Keep your sick child's drinking glasses and eating utensils separate, and wash them in hot, soapy water. All family members should wash their hands often.
Try to keep kids away from anyone who already has tonsillitis or a sore throat, and make sure everyone in your family practices good hand-washing.
Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD;Megan Kistler, MD
Date reviewed: September 26, 2016