Tonsillitis In Children

What is tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is an inflammation of the tonsils. Tonsils are 2 large lumps of tissue in the back of your child's throat. They help fight infection.


What causes tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis may be caused by a bacterial or a viral infection. Viruses that cause a cold or the flu may cause viral tonsillitis in children. A virus that causes mononucleosis (mono) may also lead to tonsillitis. Group A streptococcus is the most common type of bacteria that cause tonsillitis. It also causes strep throat. Tonsillitis can spread from an infected person to others through coughing, sneezing, or touching. The germs can spread through kissing or sharing food and drinks. Germs spread easily in schools and daycare centers and between family members at home.

What are the signs and symptoms of tonsillitis?

  • Fever and sore throat

  • Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain

  • Cough or hoarseness

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Yellow or white patches on the back of the throat

  • Bad breath

  • Rash on the body or in the mouth

How is tonsillitis diagnosed?

Your child's caregiver will look into your child's throat and feel the sides of his neck and jaw. He will ask your child about his signs and symptoms. Your child may need the following tests:

  • A throat culture may help caregivers learn which type of germ is causing your child's illness. Caregivers will swab the back of your child's throat with a cotton swab.



  • Blood tests may be done to see if your child has an infection caused by bacteria or a virus.

How is tonsillitis treated?

  • NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain or fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's doctor.

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to give your child and how often to give it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.

  • Antibiotics are given to fight or prevent an infection caused by bacteria. Give this medicine to your child as directed.

  • Tonsillectomy is surgery to remove your child's tonsils. Your child may need surgery if he has chronic tonsillitis or gets tonsillitis often. Surgery may also be done if antibiotics are not working against his tonsillitis.

How can I care for my child?

  • Have your child rest. Your child may get better more quickly if he rests as much as possible.

  • Make sure your child eats and drinks. If your child's throat is sore, he may not want to eat or drink. Make sure your child drinks liquids so that he does not get dehydrated. Ask how much liquid your child needs to drink every day.

  • Have your child gargle with warm salt water. If your child is old enough to gargle, this may help decrease his throat pain. Mix 1 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of warm water.

  • Prevent the spread of germs. Wash your hands and your child's hands often. Do not let your child share food or drinks with anyone. Your child may return to school or daycare when he feels better and his fever is gone for at least 24 hours.

When should I contact my child's caregiver?

  • Your child's symptoms do not get better, or they get worse.

  • Your child has a rash on his body, red cheeks, and a red, swollen tongue.

  • Your child snores or has pauses in his breathing when he sleeps.

  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Your child is unable to eat or drink because of the pain.

  • Your child suddenly has trouble breathing or swallowing, or he is drooling.

  • Your child has voice changes, or it is hard to understand his speech.

  • Your child has increased swelling or pain in his jaw, or he has trouble opening his mouth.

  • Your child has a stiff neck.

  • Your child has not urinated in 12 hours or is very weak or tired.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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