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The tonsils are an interesting part of the defense mechanism of the body. They are lymph nodes that lie near the back of the throat and have physical crypts in them to help "capture" bacteria or other debris that enters the body.

They are, however, frequently removed and their absence does not make any difference in the way that the immune system works. Thus, most people agree that they are a remnant of evolution and were probably developed during a time when humans did not have the same kind of micro-organism load around them.


Inflammation of the tonsils is called tonsillitis. Even though the most commonly affected age group is children and young teenagers, it can affect the body at any age. The source of the infection is usually viral, however, a bacterial source may also be present in some cases.

Symptoms And Signs Of Tonsillitis

The symptoms of tonsillitis include:

  • Pain in the throat
  • Difficulty in talking and swallowing
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Pain in the ears
  • Fever
  • Tender lymph nodes
  • Pus filled spots on the tonsils
  • Bad breath
  • Jaw pain

In most cases, these symptoms will resolve on their own or may subside after a complete course of antibiotics, although if they persist then it’s time to see your doctor.

Diagnosing Tonsillitis

A doctor will come to the diagnosis of tonsillitis on the basis of a thorough medical history, clinical examination and possibly a throat culture.

Treatment Of Tonsillitis

Doctors will generally advise a large amount of fluid intake, rest and some over the counter medication in cases of mild tonsillitis.

If the tonsillitis is severe or recurs frequently then antibiotics may not be enough. In such cases, surgery may need to be performed to remove the tonsils. Tonsil removal surgery or tonsillectomy is not as common as it once used to be because of the recognition that any procedure done under general anesthesia carries some inherent risks as well as a general shift towards less invasive options.

In some cases, tonsillitis is so severe that it causes swelling of the throat and even makes it difficult to breathe. This is treated as a medical emergency and requires immediate attention.

Surgery to remove the tonsils may be carried out in the traditional method of using a surgical blade and then controlling the bleeding through diathermy (heat) or it may be carried out using lasers, ultrasounds or cold ablation.

The safety of the different approaches to tonsillitis was found to be very similar and so the method eventually comes down to cost as well as the surgeon’s preference. The surgery may be carried out as an outpatient procedure where the patient can go home the same day or at most have to stay for observation for 24 hours.  

Complications Of Tonsillitis

Complications as a result of tonsillitis are rare and mostly limited to the spread of bacterial infection to nearby areas.

These include a middle ear infection, the formation of an abscess in the tonsils, obstructive sleep apnea, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever and even glomerulonephritis.

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