Tonsillitis In Children – Causes, Symptoms And Solutions

Written by K. Masthoff • 

Has your little one been diagnosed with tonsillitis? Or do you know someone who has experienced it? If yes, then you know how troublesome this condition can be. However, if you are not aware of what tonsillitis is, we at MomJunction will bring you up to speed. Here is everything you need to know about tonsillitis in children and how to deal with it if your kid happens to contract this infection. Read on to learn more.

What Is Tonsillitis In Children?

There are two lumps of tissue, shaped like ovals, located at the back of your kid’s throat. These lumps block the entry of any germs into your kid’s body. These tissues are called tonsils, and they also help in the production of antibodies which fight infections. Tonsils play a crucial role concerning the immune system, and yet, sometimes they can fall prey to infections. When the tonsils are overcome by viruses or bacteria, they tend to swell, which leads to inflammation. This inflammatory condition is known as tonsillitis [1].

Once the tonsils in kids get infected, they become huge and turn reddish and are covered by a whitish or yellowish matter.

It is an extremely common infection, and many children frequently get tonsillitis. There are two types of tonsillitis:

1. Chronic Tonsillitis:

This is when your child has tonsillitis or a sore throat which lasts for over three months.

[ Read: Strep Throat In Children ]

2. Recurrent Tonsillitis:

This is when your child is frequently afflicted with tonsillitis several times a year.

Mostly, tonsillitis is caused by infections from viruses, but every so often, it can develop due to infections caused by bacteria, as well.

Treating tonsillitis becomes difficult because to treat this condition the cause must be accurately diagnosed. Hence, it is crucial to get a prompt diagnosis from a reputed medical practitioner. In the past, tonsillitis was always treated through surgery, which involved surgical removal of the tonsils. However, today, surgery is only suggested when tonsillitis occurs due to bacteria and when the condition does not improve after employing all available treatments and remedies.

Causes Of Tonsils (Tonsillitis) In Kids:

As mentioned earlier, the predominant cause of tonsillitis is an infection caused by viruses or bacteria. The viruses which usually lead to tonsils in children include:

  • Enteroviruses
  • Influenza virus
  • Adenoviruses
  • Parainfluenza viruses
  • Herpes simplex virus
  • Epstein-barr virus [2]

Tonsillitis can also be caused by the streptococcus bacteria, more commonly known as strep.

Tonsillitis is quite contagious and spreads easily from an infected child to other children. Your other kids can get tonsillitis by breathing the same air after your infected child sneezes or coughs.

Also, touching the infected child can result in tonsillitis. Sharing drinks and food as well as kissing or hugging the infected kid can also lead to the spread of infection.

Coming into contact with the mucus, mouth or throat of the infected kid can result in other kids getting tonsillitis. Mostly, this infection spreads amongst little children in schools and family members at home.

[ Read: Throat Cancer In Children ]

Why Do Tonsils Get Infected So Easily?

Since the tonsils are the body’s first line of defense against viruses or bacteria, they tend to get infected or inflamed easily. However, the function tends to reduce and is almost negligible after puberty. This probably accounts for the fact that most adults rarely contract tonsillitis.

Symptoms Of Tonsillitis In Kids:

Many children are affected by tonsillitis during their pre-school to mid-teen years. The signs and symptoms of tonsillitis in children that you should be looking out for are:

  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • A runny nose
  • High-grade fever
  • Mouth rash or body rash
  • Inflamed reddish tonsils
  • Experiencing difficulty or pain while swallowing
  • Frequent headaches
  • Stomach pain
  • Stiff neck muscles
  • A sore throat and a scratchy voice or complete loss of voice
  • Experiencing sudden chills
  • A yellowish or whitish coating covering the tonsils
  • Terrible breath
  • Experiencing throat pain or tenderness in the throat
  • Presence of ulcers or blisters in the throat
  • Pain in the ear
  • Experiencing loss of appetite frequently [3]

In addition to the above signs and symptoms of tonsillitis, children may develop other symptoms as well, which include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Experiencing bouts of vomiting
  • Sudden feeling of nausea
  • Being extremely fussy
  • Refusing to eat food all of a sudden
  • Unusual drooling due to difficulty or pain while trying to swallow food and drinks

[ Read: Causes Of Snoring In Children ]

When Does Your Child Need To See A Doctor?

In case your child is displaying any of the above symptoms, you know there is a chance of him having tonsillitis. If your child’s sore throat doesn’t go away after four days and you notice one or more of the following symptoms, take him to a pediatrician immediately.

  • A temperature of 38 deg. Celsius (100.4 deg Fahrenheit) or more
  • Finding it tough to speak
  • Feeling extremely fatigued
  • Unable to breathe or swallow properly
  • Has a stiff neck
  • He has not urinated for the last 12 twelve hours
  • His jaw is swollen
  • There are long pauses between his breaths when he is sleeping [4]

These signs indicate the infection is severe, and your child’s condition is deteriorating. He requires prompt medical attention.

[ Read: Jaw Pain In Children ]

Diagnosing Tonsillitis In Kids:

Typically, your child’s body will fight the infection and does not require diagnosis or treatment. This happens only when a virus causes the infection.

Doctors usually look for visual signs and symptoms to diagnose tonsillitis caused by a virus. This means he will ask you whether your child has a fever, sore throat, headaches, body pain, and other symptoms of the infection.

On the other hand, if the infection is due to a bacterium, the doctor may ask for further tests to confirm the diagnosis. Remember, the treatment for tonsillitis in children depends on the actual cause of the infection. Hence, a proper diagnosis is crucial.

The streptococcus group of bacteria is responsible for tonsillitis brought on by a bacterial infection. Doctors can diagnose bacterial infection by conducting a strep test or throat culture.

Some of the diagnostic tests the doctor may request to ascertain whether your child has bacterial or viral tonsillitis are:

1. Throat Culture Or Throat Swab:

A throat culture is carried out to determine whether a sore throat that your child has is due to the streptococcus bacteria.

While conducting this test, the doctor takes a sample swab from the back of the throat. This swab is then put on a specific plate or culture which encourages bacteria to grow. Then certain chemical tests are carried out on this sample. If the culture is negative, then the bacteria don’t grow. This signifies your kid is not infected by the streptococcus bacteria.

2. Complete Blood Cell Count Test (CBC):

This test helps the doctor find out more about the number and type of blood cells present in the body. This test mainly provides information about white blood cells, platelets, and red blood cells.

The doctor will need to take a small sample of blood to conduct this test. This sort of test can tell the pediatrician whether your child’s blood cell levels are normal, high or very low. It also can tell whether a particular infection is due to a virus or bacteria.

If your child experiences symptoms like nausea, bruising or tiredness, a complete blood cell count (CBC) can help your doctor figure out if any of these symptoms could lead to a life-threatening condition. It also enables the doctor to check for other infections, such as mononucleosis, and conditions, like anemia.

Tonsillitis Treatment In Children:

1. Tonsillectomy:

If your child tends to get tonsillitis very frequently, say more than seven times in a year, the doctor will probably suggest removal of the tonsils. Medically, the surgical removal of tonsils is known as tonsillectomy.
However, the doctor will probably only suggest this if antibiotics aren’t helping with the infection and your child develops other complications, such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • A condition called obstructive sleep apnea
  • Difficulty in swallowing tough food like meats
  • Abscesses on your child’s tonsils are not responding to antibiotics

Tonsillectomy is typically an outpatient procedure, unless your kid has an extremely complex medical condition, is very young or has experienced some complications during surgery.

Your kid will leave the hospital the day after the surgery. However, for a full recovery, you need to be patient and wait until two weeks.

2. Acetaminophen:

This medication helps with fever and is an excellent pain reliever. It is easily available over-the-counter. However, before giving acetaminophen to your child, make sure you first consult your pediatrician. He will let you know the exact dosage. Too much acetaminophen can result in liver damage.

3. Antibiotics:

If the doctor finds that the infection is due to a bacterium, he will prescribe antibiotics. Doctors prescribe a course of penicillin for ten days if the offending bacterium is a streptococcus bacterium. However, sometimes children are allergic to penicillin. If your child too is allergic, don’t worry. There are other non-penicillin antibiotics that your doctor will prescribe.

It is imperative that your child completes the entire course of antibiotics that the doctor prescribes, even if your kid is symptom-free after a day or two of starting the treatment. If the medication is not taken correctly, it could result in the infection becoming worse and spreading to other parts of the body. Also, if your child does not take the antibiotics regularly, he is at risk of developing kidney inflammation and rheumatic fever. So you mustn’t forget to give your child the proper dosage of antibiotics for the right duration.

4. NSAIDs Or Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs:

NSAIDs are excellent pain relievers, and they help reduce fever, swelling and any other pain your child experiences due to the infection.

You can easily purchase some types of NSAIDs, like Ibuprofen, over-the-counter. However, before giving your child any NSAID, check with your doctor. Some people developed kidney problems or experienced bleeding in the stomach after taking NSAIDs. You definitely don’t want your child to get these complications, especially if your child is taking blood thinning medication. Also, if your child is under six months old, never give him NSAIDs. It could be life-threatening.

Preventing Tonsillitis In Kids:

Keep in mind tonsillitis is an extremely contagious condition and can easily spread, especially amongst children and teenagers. The best way to prevent your child from getting tonsillitis is to make sure that they are very conscious about proper hygiene.

There are a few things that they should do regularly and conscientiously as well as some things they should refrain from doing, such as:

  • Avoid using utensils, glasses or water bottles of other kids afflicted with tonsillitis.
  • Do not share food with infected children.
  • If your child is ever diagnosed with tonsillitis, make sure he replaces his old toothbrush with a new one as soon as possible.
  • Make sure your kid washes his hands properly with soap as soon as he enters the house.
  • Give your child a bottle of hand sanitizer to use in case he is outdoors and cannot wash his hands before eating.
  • Ensure your kid has a packet of tissues or wet wipes with him at all times. Teach him to cough or sneeze into a tissue so that he does not spread his germs to other kids and people.

Risks And Complications:

Some of the risk factors for tonsillitis are as follows:

1. Age:

Tonsillitis tends to affect children more than adults and mostly, it affects children over the age of two. Children younger than this very rarely, if ever, contract tonsillitis. Also, studies show tonsillitis due to viruses tends to affect children between the ages of two and five whereas tonsillitis due to bacteria mainly affects children between the ages of five and 15.

2. Constant Exposure To Germs:

Young children, who are of school-going age, tend to spend a lot of time with their classmates and school friends. They are always exposed to tons of bacteria and viruses which could cause tonsillitis.

Complications Due To Tonsillitis:

There are a few complications which can arise from tonsillitis (inflammation or swelling up of the tonsils). Some of these complications are:

  • Tonsillar cellulitis, which is an infection that tends to move further into the tissue that surrounds the tonsils.
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Obstructive sleep apnea or gaps between breaths while sleeping
  • Peritonsillar abscess which is an infection that results in the accumulation of pus behind the tonsils.

Sometimes, if your child contracts tonsillitis due to the Streptococcus family of bacteria and antibiotics prove to be ineffective, your child might fall prey to some rare complications, such as:

  • An inflammatory condition such as Rheumatic fever that affects the tissues, joints, and the heart.
  • Poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis which is an inflammatory condition affecting kidneys. It results in an unsatisfactory removal of waste and other fluids from the body.

Home Remedies For Tonsillitis In Kids:

If your child has tonsillitis, don’t fret! There are plenty of home remedies available. And, the best part is most ingredients for home remedies are readily available in kitchens. However, before using any home remedy, consult your kid’s pediatrician.

Some home remedies for tonsillitis in kids that can be effective include:

1. Basil Leaf Juice:

Basil has excellent anti-inflammatory and antiviral characteristics. It not only helps heal tonsillitis faster, but it also helps with the swelling and acts as a wonderful pain reliever.

Add a few leaves of basil to a cup of water. Boil the water for about 10 minutes and then strain. Add a bit of fresh lemon juice and some honey to sweeten it. Give this drink to your child to drink two to three times a day.

2. Salt Water Gargle:

Gargling with lukewarm salt water is the best way to soothe the throat. Besides alleviating the pain, salt water gargle also helps to kill the offending bacterium or virus. It even helps ease the inflammation, making it easier for your child to swallow.

Take a teaspoon of salt and mix it with warm water. Let your child gargle with it. Make sure you supervise the gargling so that you can ensure your kid doesn’t swallow the salty water.

3. Cinnamon:

Cinnamon has potent antimicrobial properties which make it very useful when your child gets tonsillitis. It prevents bacteria and other harmful microorganisms from growing on the tonsils. It also reduces inflammation and provides relief from pain.

Take a teaspoon of freshly ground cinnamon, two teaspoons of honey and mix it in a glass of warm water. Encourage your child to drink it. It will soothe his throat almost immediately.

4. Turmeric:

People in eastern cultures have been using turmeric since time immemorial for its culinary and medicinal uses. Turmeric possesses antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties which are great for fighting off tonsillitis.

Mix a teaspoon of turmeric powder with a glass of warm water or salt water. Let your child gargle with the solution several times a day for instant pain relief.

You could also add a teaspoon of turmeric and a pinch of pepper to a glass of warm milk, and make your child drink it. The milk will give your kid some energy while the turmeric will help heal the infection and reduce the inflammation. It is best to prepare this drink and give your child just before he retires for the night.

[ Read: Turmeric For Kids ]

5. Slippery Elm:

This is an excellent home remedy for tonsillitis because slippery elm contains a sort of gel called mucilage. This gel helps lessen inflammation and soreness, and also acts as a pain reliever. Slippery elm heals inflamed tissues, and it is especially good for healing the throat’s mucus membranes.

Take two cups of boiling water and add a little bit of the slippery elm bark to it. Let it steep for a couple of minutes and then strain. Make sure your kid drinks the concoction while it is still warm.

You could also mix a few teaspoons of the powdered slippery elm bark, a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and some honey with a little warm water.

6. Lemon Juice:

The juice of a lemon has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral properties, which are excellent for fighting tonsillitis. Lemon also has a very high amount of Vitamin C, which is great for boosting the immune system. A healthy immune system can fight germs and infections more easily.

Take a little lemon juice, a teaspoon of honey and some salt. Mix the three well in a glass of warm water. Let your child drink the warm lemon juice several times a day until the symptoms of tonsillitis disappear.

You can also give your child a slice of lemon to suck on. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on the slice. It will help ease the phlegm that develops with tonsillitis.

7. Fenugreek Seeds:

Fenugreek seeds are renowned for their antibacterial qualities. These seeds are perfect for fighting tonsillitis.

If you want to provide relief to your kid and ease the swelling, use fenugreek seeds. Add a few fenugreek seeds to water and boil. Strain the water and let your kid gargle with it. Make sure he doesn’t swallow it.

8. Figs:

Figs are high in mucilage and hence, perfect for soothing the throat and effectively curing tonsillitis.

Boil a three to four figs. Then mash the boiled figs to make a paste. Sweeten the paste with some honey. Let your child eat the paste three to four times a day.

You also can apply unsweetened fig paste on your kid’s throat and let it stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Then wash off the paste.

9. Mint:

Mint too has antibacterial properties and can fight bacterial growth. The menthol in mint leaves soothes the mucous membranes of the throat.

Boil mint leaves in water. Strain and add a little honey to sweeten it. Give this mint tea to your kid several times a day for best results. Make sure he drinks the tea while it is still warm.

In Conclusion:

Tonsillitis is a common childhood infection. Usually, it passes off without complications. However, if your child gets frequent tonsillitis, it is best to consult a doctor. Remember even caries or dental cavities can cause your kid’s tonsils to get infected. So it is a good idea to take your child for regular dental checkups. If he has cavities, get them filled.

Does your child suffer from tonsillitis? What measures do you take to alleviate the infection and provide relief to your kid? We would like to hear from you, so feel free to comment below.

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