Tonsillitis is when your child’s tonsils get inflamed.
Tonsillitis is usually caused by viruses like the common cold, flu or glandular fever.
Sometimes a bacterial infection can cause tonsillitis. Bacterial causes include streptococcal infection (Streptococcus A). If left untreated, this kind of infection can cause complications like scarlet fever, middle ear infection and, occasionally, rheumatic fever.
Children under 3 years don’t often get bacterial tonsillitis.
The tonsils are 2 pieces of tissue at the back of the mouth. You can often see them if your child ‘opens wide’ and you look into their mouth. The tonsils work as part of the immune system.
If your child has tonsillitis, they’ll have a sore throat. They might also have:
- difficulty swallowing
- a fever
- swollen, tender glands in their neck
- a headache
- a runny nose and other cold symptoms.
Depending on the cause of the infection, your child could also have a rash.
Tonsillitis symptoms usually improve after a few days and go away within a week.
Medical help: when to get it for children with tonsillitis
You should take your child to see the GP if your child :
- refuses to drink fluids
- vomits frequently.
If you’re worried about your child’s symptoms, you should also see the GP.
You should take your child to a hospital emergency department straight away if they:
- seem dehydrated – they’re doing fewer wees than usual or no wees at all, look pale and thin, have sunken eyes, cold hands and cold feet, or are drowsy or cranky
- complain of an intense headache
- are pale and sleepy
- have trouble breathing or swallowing their saliva
- have a stiff neck
- feel tightness in their jaw.
Tests for tonsillitis
Your GP might order a throat swab to check whether a virus or bacteria is causing the infection.
The GP might also suggest a blood test, which can look for glandular fever.
Mild tonsillitis often gets better by itself as children get older. This can happen even with mild tonsilitis that keeps coming back.
When your child has tonsillitis, you can treat the symptoms by giving your child:
- small, frequent sips of water or an oral rehydration fluid like Gastrolyte or Hydralyte, which you can get at pharmacies and supermarkets
- fluids via a syringe or spoon, or letting them suck icy poles
- paracetamol or ibuprofen in recommended doses to help with the pain.
Your GP might prescribe antibiotics if the GP thinks the infection is caused by bacteria.
Sometimes your GP might suggest a short course of corticosteroids for the pain.
Tonsillectomy is when you have your tonsils taken out. Tonsillectomy isn’t a routine operation, unless your child has severe tonsillitis that keeps coming back. If your GP feels your child might benefit from tonsillectomy, the GP will send you and your child to an ear, nose and throat specialist.