“Mommy, my throat hurts when I swallow.”
It’s not something a parent likes to hear, and it’s certainly nothing to take lightly. While your child may have simply caught whatever virus has been going around at school, their discomfort could also be something more serious – namely tonsillitis.
A Pain in the Neck
Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils. It is caused by viruses or some form of bacteria. Tonsils are lumps of tissue on both sides of the back of the throat that help the immune system protect the body from infection. When your child’s tonsils become infected, they get swollen and red, and have a yellow or white coating. Besides a sore throat, other telltale signs of tonsillitis include fever, swollen glands in the neck, and trouble swallowing.
At the first sign of these symptoms, you should consult your child’s pediatrician. He or she will first examine your child’s throat and neck. Then treatment for tonsillitis will depend on whether it’s caused by a virus or by bacteria.
Determining and Treating the Cause
Besides examining your child, the doctor will use a soft cotton swab to collect a sample from your child’s tonsils and back of the throat. The purpose of this culture sample is to determine whether streptococci bacteria are causing the infection.
If strep throat is diagnosed, your child will need to be treated with an antibiotic to kill the bacteria. However, if the strep test results come back negative, your child’s tonsillitis is likely caused by a virus, which antibiotics won’t treat. Instead, your child will just have to rest for a few days until their body fights off the infection and the virus runs its course.
If strep throat is the condition, it’s important that your child takes the antibiotics as directed and finishes the entire prescription— even if he or she starts to feel better sooner rather than later. If not, the infection could come back.
If your child’s tonsils are extremely infected or swell so much that they make it difficult to breathe at night, your doctor might recommend a tonsillectomy, in which case the tonsils would be surgically removed.
Before and after the procedure, make sure that your child drinks lots of fluids and gets plenty of rest. You can help relieve your child’s pain when swallowing by serving liquids and soft foods, such as soups, milkshakes, smoothies, ice pops, or ice cream.
You can give your child a pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, for throat pain. Don’t give aspirin or any product that contains aspirin, since this can put your child at risk for Reyes syndrome, a rare but nonetheless serious condition that causes confusion, brain swelling, and liver damage. Aspirin is also discouraged before any surgical procedure, as increased bleeding can occur from the blood thinning properties of the medicine.
A Note of Caution
The virus or bacteria that caused your child’s tonsillitis is most likely contagious, and can be passed from one person to the next simply through coughing or sneezing. Keeping your child away from anyone who already has tonsillitis or a sore throat may prevent them from getting infected in the first place.
Also, make sure everyone in your family washes their hands well and often to avoid viruses. You should also keep your child's drinking glasses and eating utensils separate, and wash them in hot, soapy water.
Contact us for information about how you can partner with CHC to help your child achieve the healthiest childhood possible.