What It Feels Like When You Have Tonsillitis

There is more than meets the eye when it comes to our tonsils. While these small organs were once considered to have no real purpose whatsoever, we now know that they support our body's immunity by obstructing contaminants from making their way down our throat or in through our nasal airways (via InformedHealth.org). Not only that, but they are rich in germ-fighting white blood cells.

While some people may still have their tonsils intact, others may have had them removed at some point during their lives. Otherwise known as a tonsillectomy, this treatment option may be used for patients experiencing recurrent cases of tonsillitis, according to experts at the Mayo Clinic. In essence, tonsillitis is characterized by inflammation caused by either a bacterial or viral infection. Most often affecting young children and adolescents, tonsillitis can come with a number of symptoms, including redness, swelling, sore throat, pain when swallowing, fever, headache, enlarged lymph nodes, or the presence of a white or yellow film across the tonsils.

Pain may feel mild or severe

"As long as you have tonsils, they can get infected, and they can get swollen," ear, nose, and throat specialist Dr. Gene Liu tells Cedars-Sinai. So just how painful can tonsillitis be? Because the severity of cases can vary, some individuals may only feel a bothersome scratchy sensation, while others may liken it to swallowing broken glass. Young children experiencing the discomfort of tonsillitis may drool, display fussy behavior, or refrain from eating.

It's important to see your doctor if you suspect you or a loved one may be experiencing tonsillitis, as an untreated infection can lead to complications. If your physician confirms that the root of the infection is bacterial, antibiotic treatment will be required. Oftentimes, a 10-day round of penicillin is prescribed. Even if symptoms begin to subside, it's important to take the medication exactly as prescribed. If not taken to completion, a child may be more susceptible to certain health conditions such as kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever (via Mayo Clinic). 

Alternatively, if the source of your tonsillitis infection is viral, there are at-home remedies one can implement to help seek relief.

At-home relief methods for tonsillitis

As with most illnesses, rest and adequate hydration are paramount, and the same is true for cases of bacterial or viral tonsillitis. Such liquids can include soup broth, warm water with honey, or even a cooling popsicle. Just be sure to keep any fluids caffeine-free, according to the Mayo Clinic. Alternatively, a salt-water rinse can also be helpful in relieving tonsillitis-related pain. To do so, combine ½ teaspoon of table salt with 8 ounces of warm water to gargle and spit. Children over the age of four can also use lozenges for pain relief.

Additionally, try and keep the air in your home as moist as possible by using a humidifier, as dry air may further aggravate the discomfort. Similarly, cigarette smoke, strong chemicals, and other irritants may also exacerbate symptoms of tonsillitis so it's best to limit exposure as much as possible. Finally, be sure to talk to your child's doctor about the use of pain-relief medications such as Tylenol or Advil beforehand, as it may only be advised in certain instances. Aspirin should never be used. Generally speaking, viral cases of tonsillitis resolve in approximately 7 to 10 days.