Tonsillitis is a condition that affects the tonsils in the back of your throat. The tonsils are two round glands hanging from the upper back portion of the throat. Adenoids are hidden in the roof of the mouth, just behind the uvula and at the back of the nasal cavity. These appendages help the body fight germs, bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. Tonsillitis is not just a common childhood ailment; it affects adults too. Adults who have not had their tonsils removed may be vulnerable to tonsillitis.
How Does Tonsillitis Develop?
Tonsils and adenoids help form the Waldeyer’s Ring. This Ring of tissue also includes other lymphoid tissues that filter germs, bacteria, and viruses from entering the body through the mouth and nose. They also create antibodies to support the immune system and fight off infections. When infected or inflamed, these tissues swell and obstruct the airways, making it difficult to breathe and swallow.
Tonsillitis can cause symptoms that many adults confuse with other common upper airway ailments, such as the common cold, sinus infections, and allergies.
- Abnormal voice changes
- Sore throat
- Bad breath
- Swelling and inflammation of the tonsils or adenoids
- Red, white, or yellow tonsils
- Swollen neck or jaw lymph nodes
- Nasal congestion
- Untreated sinus infection
- Throat blisters
- Appetite loss
It is possible to have an infection and swelling of the tonsils/adenoids without other symptoms. It is also common to have secondary conditions. Some patients remain unaware of their condition until they start experiencing poor sleep quality due to them waking up and gasping for air, mouth breathing, or snoring. Frequent ear infections, noisy breathing, sleep apnea, and a decline in daytime wakefulness and cognitive function are common side effects of tonsillitis as well.
Many types of viruses and bacteria can compromise healthy tonsil and adenoid tissues, leading to tonsillitis. Common causes of adult tonsillitis include HSV/Herpes simplex virus, adenoviruses, measles, Epstein-Bar virus, streptococcus bacterial infections, also known as strep, cytomegalovirus, and mononucleosis.
Diagnosing Tonsillitis in Adults
A health evaluation is necessary to diagnose tonsillitis in adults. Depending on the physician’s findings, he may also order a rapid strep test or throat/tonsil culture to determine the type and cause of infection. The rapid strep test provides almost-immediate results while culture samples can take up to 72 hours to process. Once the type of bacteria is identified, the appropriate antibiotic treatment can begin. Surgery is a treatment option for tonsil infections and inflammations that become worse even with treatment, for individuals who develop at least three recurrent infections annually, three years in a row, or for those that the swelling is so bad that they can’t sleep because of the obstruction in their nose and throat.
Treating Adult Tonsillitis
Treatment for adult tonsillitis is primarily determined by the cause of the infection. Viral tonsillitis treatment differs from bacterial infections.
Antibiotics – Prescription antibiotics are the standard treatment for bacterial tonsillitis. The most common types of antibiotic therapy administered for tonsillitis caused by strep and other types of bacteria include cephalosporin, penicillin, or clindamycin. Treatment involves taking the medication as directed. Failure to complete the full course of antibiotic treatment can allow the infection to become worse, redevelop or spread throughout the body.
Self-care and symptom management – Most cases of viral tonsillitis caused by the common cold or other mild viruses gradually resolve with self-care, rest, additional hydration, salt water rinses, pain relievers, and home remedies to reduce the pain and discomfort.
Tonsillectomy – Surgery is often required for individuals who develop recurrent infections or when there is a suspected underlying cause besides infection, such as tumors or cancerous tissues. Surgery is also the protocol for patients who have severely enlarged tonsils or adenoids that block the airways. Tonsil infections that redevelop five or more times within 12 months are chronic.
Surgery is also recommended for bacterial tonsillitis infections that cause the following:
- Peritonsillar abscesses form when pus accumulates in or around the infected portions of the tonsils or adenoids. It is standard protocol to drain tonsil abscesses. However, in cases of chronic infections, removal is preferred. Untreated, peritonsillar abscesses lead to extreme throat pain, trouble opening and closing the mouth, drooling, and voice changes.
- Airway obstruction that causes snoring or sleeping difficulty.
- Scarlet fever is characterized by a high, persistent fever and a bright red rash. It is a rare condition that is mostly seen in children.
- Rheumatic fever is a bacterial tonsillitis complication that can lead to permanent damage heart and cardiac tissue damage.
- Advanced infection is another serious risk of strep tonsillitis that can enable the bacteria to spread from throughout the body, in particular, the sinuses and middle ear. If not treated in time, acute kidney failure or glomerulonephritis, sinusitis, or a flesh-eating bacteria known as necrotizing fasciitis or death can occur.
Untreated tonsillitis can cause you to become sicker and increase the risk of repeat infections. Prolonged infections can lead to secondary health challenges that make treating tonsillitis more difficult. In rare cases, lockjaw can occur. Self-management is recommended for most tonsil infections. However, a proper diagnosis and medical care are necessary to prevent complications and protect your health and overall quality of life.
Adult Tonsillitis Treatment at C/V ENT Surgical Group
If you suspect you have tonsillitis, sinusitis, or experiencing discomfort in the ear, nose, or throat areas, contact C/V ENT Surgical Group at 818-431-2769 to discuss your situation. Our ENT specialists have extensive experience in providing medical, surgical, and minimally invasive treatment for adult tonsillitis that provides immediate, long-term relief so you can resume living and breathing easily and pain-free.