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Tonsillitis And Tonsillectomy

What is tonsillitis? What are tonsils?

Last updated on:
17/04/2013

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils. It is caused by either a virus or a bacteria (usually the bacterium known as streptococcus - the same bacterium that causes "strep throat").

Tonsillitis mostly occurs in young children.

What Are Tonsils? What are Adenoids?

The tonsils are a pair of small almond-shaped organs located of the mouth on both sides of the throat. The adenoids are similar to the tonsils but are located in the upper portion of the throat behind the nose, where they can't be seen.

  • At one time many doctors believed that tonsils had no real purpose and often routinely removed them to avoid tonsillitis. Today, tonsils and adenoids are seen as perhaps the "first line of defense" against disease-causing germs that enter the body through the nose, mouth, or throat.
  • Tonsils and adenoids protect against germs during early childhood by producing antibodies . By attacking bacteria and viruses, antibodies play an important role in the body's immune system. The problem is that in the process of protecting the body, the tonsils and adenoids can become infected themselves.
  • As children grow and develop, the tonsils and adenoids eventually begin to shrink and are probably no longer important in protecting against disease-causing germs. Even in young children, removal of infected tonsils or adenoids does not seem to weaken the body's defenses. There are many other tissues in the body that are part of the immune system. These tissues, known as lymphoid tissues, also make antibodies to fight against infection.

 

 

 

What Does Tonsillitis Look Like?

When tonsils are infected, they will look redder than usual and swollen.

  • A grayish-white or yellowish coating may cover part or all of the tonsils.
  • The surrounding area of the throat near the tonsils also may appear red and inflamed. There may be swelling at the sides of the neck as the lymph nodes grow larger while producing cells to fight the infection.

 

 

Facts About Tonsillitis:

  • Doctors once believed that tonsils and adenoids served no purpose and routinely removed them to prevent tonsillitis. Today many doctors believe these organs are the first line of defense against upper respiratory infections, which enter the body through the nose, mouth, and throat.
  • The first description of tonsillectomy was recorded in India in 1000 B.C.
  • In the United States, the frequency of tonsillectomy has dropped dramatically since 1959 when 1.4 million tonsillectomies were performed. However, tonsillectomy remains the third most common surgery performed on children under 15 years of age, after circumsicion and ear tubes. More than 530,000 tonsillectomies are performed annually in the United States.
  • An abscess, or pocket of pus, that forms around a tonsil is also known as a quinsy.
  • When tonsils become so enlarged that a child's voice changes, it is called "hot potato" voice. This is one sign that the tonsils should be removed.

 

 
 

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.