It had become routine for Janet to give her one-year-old son over-the-counter syrup every time he showed signs of the common cold (sniffles, runny nose and laboured breathing). And so when the signs of the common cold reared its ugly head for the umpteenth time, she reached out for her usual regimen. After realising that the symptoms, which she had expected to die down after one week, were only getting worse, she decided to take her son to a paediatrician who confirmed that her son did not have a cold but rather tonsillitis.
What is tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis refers to the inflammation of the tonsils, a pair of lymphoid tissues situated at the back of the throat. Their primary role in children is to protect the body from infections by combining with the bacterial or viral disease causing elements (such as the common cold or flu virus) then alerting other disease fighting cells, still present within the tonsils, of the presence of pathogens, hence stimulating an immune response. However, when they cannot beat the infection, they become inflamed, taking on a yellowish or a whitish coat and manifesting with a fever, sore throat, laboured breathing especially through the mouth, swollen glands in the neck, trouble swallowing, coughing, headache, runny or stuffy nose, excessive drooling and sometimes vomiting.
What is the treatment?
Generally speaking, tonsillitis is not considered to be a serious condition and may not necessarily require one to visit a doctor. Keep your baby comfortable by:
Ensuring they get plenty of rest.
Have them drink plenty of fluids, mostly water and soup.
Place a warm hot water bottle or compress on the neck.
Humidify the air in the baby’s room. You can create an instant humidifier by placing a basin filled with water in the room, then turn on your heater, which will evaporate the water slowly.
The symptoms should subside within a week with this home treatment regimen. However, if after four days the symptoms do not let up or your child is unable to swallow because of pain, then it is time to see a doctor. Note that viral and bacterial tonsillitis require different treatment regimens. In the event the infection is bacterial, then antibiotics will be prescribed. Bacterial infections usually involve high temperatures, white puss filled spots on the tonsils, swollen and tender lymph nodes but no coughing. If the cause is more of an allergy, then nasal sprays to clear up the airways, painkillers to deal with pain, and antihistamines to combat the allergy are administered.
Can you prevent infection?
It is key to note that tonsillitis is contagious, meaning it can be passed on from an infected person to another through their contaminated mucous or saliva, which can be passed through coughing, sneezing, sharing of foods, drinks and utensils and coming into contact with contaminated items such as tissue.
As a precaution, keep infected people away from your child. In the event the baby is infected, wash his utensils with hot, soapy water to disinfect them. Additionally, maintain the number one hygiene rule: wash, wash and wash those hands before and after handling infected people and contaminated items.
Can there be serious complications?
While tonsillitis for the most part is harmless, there are times it can become chronic (recurrent) especially if caused by bacteria, resulting in other complications such as middle ear infections or sleep apnea (snoring), where a child may stop breathing for brief periods during sleep causing them to wake up frequently at night and sleeping during the day to compensate for the loss of sleep. In this case, surgical removal of the tonsils, medically referred to as tonsillectomy may be recommended. The procedure is fairly simple and your child should recover well in no time.
Published in July 2015