How will my doctor diagnose tonsillitis?
Your doctor will most likely conduct a physical exam of your throat. He/she may immediately be able to see if there is obvious swelling and redness due to infection of the tonsils.
Your doctor may also use a throat swab to get a sample of the cultures of your tonsils (throat swab culture). This involves using a cotton swab and gently swabbing the back of your throat to get a sample. This will be sent to the lab for testing to find out the exact cause of your infection. A throat culture test is used to find the germs that cause the infection. If there are no germs growing there, the culture test is negative. But, if there are germs growing there, the culture test comes back as positive.
The lab test can determine whether or not a bacterial or viral infection is present and specify the exact organism that is the culprit.
How is tonsillitis treated?
It is sometimes the case that the physical examination is enough evidence to diagnose a possible bacterial infection and in these situations, antibiotics may be prescribed without the need for a swab test.
After starting a course of antibiotics, if taken orally through the use of tablets (antibiotics can also be given as an injection), symptoms will start to ease after a few days. Do not be alarmed if your doctor suggests you take a second course of antibiotics, depending on the severity of the infection you may have to.
When the infection is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not work and your body will need to try and fight the infection naturally. Here are some things you should do in order to help your body regain its strength:
- Getting lots of rest and sleep will help to gain strength.
- Drinking cold or warm liquids will help to ease your sore throat.
- Using a humidifier in your room will also help in breathing easily, especially if you are congested.
- Try gargling with warm water with some salt in it, this helps to fight off the infection.
- Sucking on throat lozenges with mild anaesthetics in them will also help.
- Over-the-counter painkillers may also help to relieve headaches and pain from fever and infection, ibuprofen is often a good choice but always ask your doctor or pharmacist should you feel uncertain.
- Try to avoid smoke and cigarettes.
Tonsil removal (tonsillectomy)
Do I have to have my tonsils removed?
Having your tonsils surgically removed is known as a tonsillectomy. This is the case when all possible treatments have been exhausted and you are not responding to them. It is not as common as it used to be due to the improvement of medicine and doctors wanting to explore all possible avenues before surgery.
However, surgery is necessary when you are suffering from chronic tonsillitis or a bacterial infection that is unresponsive to treatment. Your doctor may also recommend surgery when your tonsillitis is disrupting your sleep (sleep apnea) and creating difficulty breathing and eating.
Recurrent tonsillitis is when:
- You experience more than three episodes of tonsillitis a year over a period of three consecutive years.
- You experience more than seven episodes over one year.
- You experience over four to five episodes a year over two preceding years.
How are tonsils removed and what can I expect after surgery?
Your surgeon may use a conventional scalpel to remove your tonsils while you are under a general anaesthetic. With the improvement of technology, doctors also have the option of using lasers, ultrasonic energy, radio waves, or even electrocautery to burn or cut out the tonsils. Electrocautery uses a heated electrode to destroy the tissue.
The surgery tends to last about 30 minutes to an hour. Most people can go home on the same day, about four hours after surgery. It will take about a week to 10 days to recover for children and possibly longer for adults. You may suffer from mild to severe throat pain and it is recommended that you rest and drink plenty of fluids and stay away from solid foods until your throat heals. You will be allowed to slowly introduce very soft foods during recovery.