Disease: Tonsillitis and Adenoid Infection

What is the purpose of the tonsils and adenoids?

The tonsils and adenoids are thought to assist the body in its defense against incoming bacteria and viruses by helping the body form antibodies. However, this function may only be important during the first year of life. There is no evidence to support a significant role of the tonsils and adenoids in immunity. Medical studies have shown that children who have their tonsils and adenoids removed suffer no loss in their future immunity to disease or ability to ward off infections.

Tonsillitis and adenoid infection facts

  • Tonsils and adenoids are composed of tissues similar to the lymph nodes or glands.
  • Acute tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils caused by one of several types of bacteria or viruses.
  • Chronic tonsillitis is a persistent infection of the tonsils and can cause tonsil stone formation.
  • Symptoms of tonsil or adenoid infection include sore throat, fever, bad breath, difficulty swallowing, and swollen glands in the front of the neck.
  • Peritonsillar abscess is a collection of pus behind the tonsils.
  • Obstruction to breathing by enlarged tonsils and adenoids may cause snoring and disturbed sleep patterns.
  • Bacterial infections of the tonsils and adenoids are treated with antibiotics, viral infections are not.
  • Tonsillitis and adenoid infections are diagnosed with a history and physical exam. A throat culture and rapid strep test may be ordered in cases of tonsillitis suspected to be bacterial.
  • Tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy may be indicated: (1) for repeated or persistent infections; (2) when serious complications of infection occur; and (3) when enlargement of the tonsils and adenoids causes breathing, swallowing, or dental problems.

What are the tonsils and adenoids?

The tonsils and adenoids are composed of tissues similar to the lymph nodes or glands found in the neck or other parts of the body. Together, they are part of a ring of glandular tissue (Waldeyer's ring) encircling the back of the throat.

The tonsils are the two masses of tissue on either side of the back of the throat. Normal tonsils are usually about the same size and have the same pink color as the surrounding area. On their surfaces are little depressions, called crypts, which may appear deep and contain pus pockets or tonsil stones.

The adenoids are located high in the throat behind the nose and soft palate (the roof of the mouth) and unlike the tonsils, are not easily visible through the mouth. A tonsillectomy and an adenoidectomy (commonly referred to as a T & A) are surgical procedures performed to remove the tonsils and adenoids.

What are the symptoms of tonsillitis or an adenoid infection?

The most prominent symptom of tonsillitis and adenoid infection is a sore throat. Other symptoms of tonsillitis and adenoid infection include:

  • Fever
  • Bad breath
  • Congestion and runny nose
  • Swollen lymph nodes in front of the neck
  • Red, swollen tonsils with patches of pus (white spots)
  • Pain or difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of voice or muffled voice
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • If the adenoids are enlarged, breathing through the nose may be difficult
    • Breathing through the mouth, especially in children
    • Noisy breathing in the day; snoring at night is often observed
    • Voice may be nasal-sounding

When there is a sore throat and cold symptoms such as congestion, runny nose, sneezing, and coughing, the cause is most likely a virus. Viral infection of the tonsils or adenoids usually resolves without treatment within two weeks.

Sore throat with a sudden mild fever, without symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection may point to a bacterial infection. If these symptoms are present, see a doctor for diagnosis because of the risk of strep throat. Although strep throat will usually go away even without treatment, an untreated strep infection can lead to complications including rheumatic fever, which can permanently damage the heart.

Is tonsillitis contagious?

Tonsillitis may or may not be contagious, depending on the cause. If the cause is viral, it is usually contagious, but this depends upon whether or not a person has been exposed to that particular virus before. Mononucleosis, a viral cause of sore throat, is contagious the first time a person is exposed to the virus, usually in childhood or adolescence.

If the cause of the tonsillitis is bacterial, it is also contagious. For example, strep throat is highly contagious.

If the tonsillitis and enlarged adenoids are chronic or caused by a chronic condition, such as sinusitis or allergic rhinitis, it is not likely contagious.

What are common problems affecting the tonsils and adenoids?

The most common problems occurring with the tonsils and adenoids are recurrent or chronic infections and significant enlargement (hypertrophy).

Acute Tonsillitis

Acute tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils caused by one of several possible types of bacteria or viruses. Symptoms of acute tonsillitis can either come on suddenly, or gradual onset of a sore throat usually accompanied by a fever.

Other signs and symptoms of acute tonsillitis include:

  • Difficulty swallowing saliva
  • Drooling
  • Ear pain with swallowing
  • Bad breath
  • The surface of the tonsil may be bright red or have a grayish-white coating (exudate).
  • The lymph nodes in the neck may be swollen.
  • Fever

Strep throat is a specific type of infection caused by the Streptococcus bacteria. Strep tonsillitis can cause secondary damage to the heart valves (rheumatic fever) and kidneys (glomerulonephritis). It can also lead to a skin rash (scarlet fever), sinusitis, pneumonia, and ear infections.

Acute mononucleosis is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, and can lead to a very severe throat infection characterized by the rapid enlargement of the tonsils, adenoids, and lymph nodes of the neck. It also causes extreme malaise and tiredness. The sore throat and gland swelling can last for one week to a month and does not respond to the usually prescribed antibiotics.

Chronic Tonsillitis

Chronic tonsillitis is a persistent infection of the tonsils. Repeated infections may cause the formation of small pockets (crypts) in the tonsils which harbor bacteria. Frequently, small, foul smelling stones are found within these crypts. These stones (tonsilloliths) may contain high quantities of sulfa. When crushed, they give off the characteristic rotten egg smell which causes bad breath. They may also give a patient the sense of something being caught in the back of the throat.

Peritonsillar Abscess

A peritonsillar abscess is a collection of pus behind the tonsils that pushes one of the tonsils toward the uvula (the prominent soft tissue dangling from the back of the upper throat). It is generally very painful and is associated with decreased ability to open the mouth. If left untreated, the infection can spread deep in the neck causing life-threatening complications and airway obstruction.

Enlargement of (Hypertrophic) Tonsils and Adenoids

Obstruction to breathing by enlarged tonsils and adenoids may cause snoring and disturbed sleep patterns that may lead to sleep pauses or sleep apnea. Other symptoms include:

  • frequent awakening from sleep,
  • restless sleep,
  • nightmares,
  • bedwetting,
  • mood changes,
  • excessive sleepiness, and
  • heart problems.

Some orthodontists believe chronic mouth breathing from large tonsils and adenoids causes improper alignment of the teeth (malocclusion).

Chronic enlargement and infection of the adenoids may lead to infection of the air passages around the nose (sinusitis) or nasal drainage/obstruction, and/or may affect the Eustachian tube of the ear, leading to chronic ear infections.

How are tonsillitis and adenoid infection diagnosed?

Diagnosis of tonsillitis and adenoid infection is based on a medical history and a physical exam.

If symptoms suggest strep throat, the doctor may order a throat culture or rapid strep test, which are done by swabbing the back of the throat and checking for the Streptococcus bacteria. This can be performed in the doctor's office. If the Epstein-Barr virus, which can cause mononucleosis, is suspected as a cause for the tonsillitis, a blood test for mononucleosis may be done.

Strep throat is more likely if at least three of the following signs or symptoms are present:

  • Fever
  • White or yellow spots or coating on the throat and/or tonsils (tonsillar exudates)
  • Red spots on the roof of the mouth (upper palette)
  • Swollen or tender lymph nodes on the neck
  • Absence of coughing or sneezing

Antibiotic treatment may be needed if the infection is caused by bacteria. In more severe, recurrent or chronic cases, surgery to remove the tonsils or adenoids (tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy) may be recommended.

How are tonsillitis and adenoid infection treated?

Bacterial infections of the tonsils and adenoids are treated with various antibiotics. Tonsillitis caused by the Streptococcus bacteria can lead to serious complications. Once treatment begins, it is important to take the full course of antibiotics as prescribed because if you stop taking the drugs before they are finished it can lead to adverse consequences and regrowth of the bacteria. Surgical removal is considered in situations resistant to medical therapy or in frequently recurrent infections.

Viral causes of tonsillitis or enlarged adenoids are often treated with only supportive care (hydration and control of fever). Antibiotics are not effective for viral infection of the tonsils.

A peritonsillar abscess should be drained either by removal of fluid with a needle and syringe (needle aspiration), cutting open with a scalpel (incision), or tonsillectomy. Chronic stones in the tonsil can be removed with a clean finger or with a blunt probe. Massive enlargement of the tonsils and adenoids causing airway obstruction may be treated with a long course of antibiotics, or even a brief course of steroids to reduce inflammation (cortisone-related medications, such as prednisone and prednisolone).

What are the symptoms of tonsillitis or an adenoid infection?

The most prominent symptom of tonsillitis and adenoid infection is a sore throat. Other symptoms of tonsillitis and adenoid infection include:

  • Fever
  • Bad breath
  • Congestion and runny nose
  • Swollen lymph nodes in front of the neck
  • Red, swollen tonsils with patches of pus (white spots)
  • Pain or difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of voice or muffled voice
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • If the adenoids are enlarged, breathing through the nose may be difficult
    • Breathing through the mouth, especially in children
    • Noisy breathing in the day; snoring at night is often observed
    • Voice may be nasal-sounding

When there is a sore throat and cold symptoms such as congestion, runny nose, sneezing, and coughing, the cause is most likely a virus. Viral infection of the tonsils or adenoids usually resolves without treatment within two weeks.

Sore throat with a sudden mild fever, without symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection may point to a bacterial infection. If these symptoms are present, see a doctor for diagnosis because of the risk of strep throat. Although strep throat will usually go away even without treatment, an untreated strep infection can lead to complications including rheumatic fever, which can permanently damage the heart.

Is tonsillitis contagious?

Tonsillitis may or may not be contagious, depending on the cause. If the cause is viral, it is usually contagious, but this depends upon whether or not a person has been exposed to that particular virus before. Mononucleosis, a viral cause of sore throat, is contagious the first time a person is exposed to the virus, usually in childhood or adolescence.

If the cause of the tonsillitis is bacterial, it is also contagious. For example, strep throat is highly contagious.

If the tonsillitis and enlarged adenoids are chronic or caused by a chronic condition, such as sinusitis or allergic rhinitis, it is not likely contagious.

What are common problems affecting the tonsils and adenoids?

The most common problems occurring with the tonsils and adenoids are recurrent or chronic infections and significant enlargement (hypertrophy).

Acute Tonsillitis

Acute tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils caused by one of several possible types of bacteria or viruses. Symptoms of acute tonsillitis can either come on suddenly, or gradual onset of a sore throat usually accompanied by a fever.

Other signs and symptoms of acute tonsillitis include:

  • Difficulty swallowing saliva
  • Drooling
  • Ear pain with swallowing
  • Bad breath
  • The surface of the tonsil may be bright red or have a grayish-white coating (exudate).
  • The lymph nodes in the neck may be swollen.
  • Fever

Strep throat is a specific type of infection caused by the Streptococcus bacteria. Strep tonsillitis can cause secondary damage to the heart valves (rheumatic fever) and kidneys (glomerulonephritis). It can also lead to a skin rash (scarlet fever), sinusitis, pneumonia, and ear infections.

Acute mononucleosis is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, and can lead to a very severe throat infection characterized by the rapid enlargement of the tonsils, adenoids, and lymph nodes of the neck. It also causes extreme malaise and tiredness. The sore throat and gland swelling can last for one week to a month and does not respond to the usually prescribed antibiotics.

Chronic Tonsillitis

Chronic tonsillitis is a persistent infection of the tonsils. Repeated infections may cause the formation of small pockets (crypts) in the tonsils which harbor bacteria. Frequently, small, foul smelling stones are found within these crypts. These stones (tonsilloliths) may contain high quantities of sulfa. When crushed, they give off the characteristic rotten egg smell which causes bad breath. They may also give a patient the sense of something being caught in the back of the throat.

Peritonsillar Abscess

A peritonsillar abscess is a collection of pus behind the tonsils that pushes one of the tonsils toward the uvula (the prominent soft tissue dangling from the back of the upper throat). It is generally very painful and is associated with decreased ability to open the mouth. If left untreated, the infection can spread deep in the neck causing life-threatening complications and airway obstruction.

Enlargement of (Hypertrophic) Tonsils and Adenoids

Obstruction to breathing by enlarged tonsils and adenoids may cause snoring and disturbed sleep patterns that may lead to sleep pauses or sleep apnea. Other symptoms include:

  • frequent awakening from sleep,
  • restless sleep,
  • nightmares,
  • bedwetting,
  • mood changes,
  • excessive sleepiness, and
  • heart problems.

Some orthodontists believe chronic mouth breathing from large tonsils and adenoids causes improper alignment of the teeth (malocclusion).

Chronic enlargement and infection of the adenoids may lead to infection of the air passages around the nose (sinusitis) or nasal drainage/obstruction, and/or may affect the Eustachian tube of the ear, leading to chronic ear infections.

How are tonsillitis and adenoid infection diagnosed?

Diagnosis of tonsillitis and adenoid infection is based on a medical history and a physical exam.

If symptoms suggest strep throat, the doctor may order a throat culture or rapid strep test, which are done by swabbing the back of the throat and checking for the Streptococcus bacteria. This can be performed in the doctor's office. If the Epstein-Barr virus, which can cause mononucleosis, is suspected as a cause for the tonsillitis, a blood test for mononucleosis may be done.

Strep throat is more likely if at least three of the following signs or symptoms are present:

  • Fever
  • White or yellow spots or coating on the throat and/or tonsils (tonsillar exudates)
  • Red spots on the roof of the mouth (upper palette)
  • Swollen or tender lymph nodes on the neck
  • Absence of coughing or sneezing

Antibiotic treatment may be needed if the infection is caused by bacteria. In more severe, recurrent or chronic cases, surgery to remove the tonsils or adenoids (tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy) may be recommended.

How are tonsillitis and adenoid infection treated?

Bacterial infections of the tonsils and adenoids are treated with various antibiotics. Tonsillitis caused by the Streptococcus bacteria can lead to serious complications. Once treatment begins, it is important to take the full course of antibiotics as prescribed because if you stop taking the drugs before they are finished it can lead to adverse consequences and regrowth of the bacteria. Surgical removal is considered in situations resistant to medical therapy or in frequently recurrent infections.

Viral causes of tonsillitis or enlarged adenoids are often treated with only supportive care (hydration and control of fever). Antibiotics are not effective for viral infection of the tonsils.

A peritonsillar abscess should be drained either by removal of fluid with a needle and syringe (needle aspiration), cutting open with a scalpel (incision), or tonsillectomy. Chronic stones in the tonsil can be removed with a clean finger or with a blunt probe. Massive enlargement of the tonsils and adenoids causing airway obstruction may be treated with a long course of antibiotics, or even a brief course of steroids to reduce inflammation (cortisone-related medications, such as prednisone and prednisolone).

Source: http://www.rxlist.com

The tonsils and adenoids are composed of tissues similar to the lymph nodes or glands found in the neck or other parts of the body. Together, they are part of a ring of glandular tissue (Waldeyer's ring) encircling the back of the throat.

The tonsils are the two masses of tissue on either side of the back of the throat. Normal tonsils are usually about the same size and have the same pink color as the surrounding area. On their surfaces are little depressions, called crypts, which may appear deep and contain pus pockets or tonsil stones.

The adenoids are located high in the throat behind the nose and soft palate (the roof of the mouth) and unlike the tonsils, are not easily visible through the mouth. A tonsillectomy and an adenoidectomy (commonly referred to as a T & A) are surgical procedures performed to remove the tonsils and adenoids.

Source: http://www.rxlist.com

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