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Tonsil troubles

Tonsils can get infected while protecting us from disease. Fortunately, surgery is no longer the most common treatment.

So many people have them removed that you may wonder why you were born with tonsils in the first place.

It may be hard to believe, especially if you've had tonsil trouble, but your tonsils are actually there to help keep infections away, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The tonsils are part of the lymphatic system, which helps protect your body from infection. Specifically, the tonsils help protect your upper respiratory tract.

But sometimes tonsils become infected by the same disease organisms they're trying to stop. This happens more often in kids than in adults, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. That's because a child's tonsils are larger and more easily infected.

What to do

If you think your child may have tonsillitis, check for these signs:

  • Reddened tonsils.
  • A white or yellow coating on the tonsils.
  • A deeper, throaty voice.
  • Sore throat.
  • Pain when swallowing.
  • Swollen neck glands.
  • Fever.

A doctor will be able to tell for sure if your child has tonsillitis. Possible treatments include:

Antibiotics. The doctor will prescribe antibiotics only if your child has a bacterial infection. Antibiotics won't help viral infections.

Make sure your child takes all of the antibiotics. Not finishing the treatment course increases the chance that the infection will come back even stronger.

Surgery. Until recently, the standard cure for troubled tonsils was to take them out.

But tonsil surgery is much less common today. The AAP guidelines recommend removing tonsils only if your child has:

  • Tonsil swelling that interferes with swallowing or makes normal breathing difficult.
  • A larger than normal number of serious sore throats each year.
  • Tender or swollen lymph nodes beneath the lower jaw that don't get better in six months, even with antibiotic treatment.

If required, surgery won't be fun for your child, but it is safe and will end tonsil troubles. You can help make the procedure less scary by talking with your child about it ahead of time.

Tell your child what the surgery is for, and explain that his or her throat will feel better when it's done. It may also help for you to stay with your child as much as possible before and after the surgery. Your doctor can help you make sure this is possible.

reviewed 12/4/2019

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