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Childhood Illnesses: TNL’s Guide to Tonsilitis

Tonsillitis

What is it?

Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils, which are located on either side of the back of your throat, and can been seen by the naked eye. It is usually caused by viruses, such as colds, but it can also be caused by bacterial infections, such as strep throat. It is most commonly found in children, but teenagers and adults can also contract the illness.

Tonsillitis itself is not contagious, but the virus or bacteria that causes tonsillitis is, so appropriate measures should be taken to reduce transmission to others. It is an airborne virus which is transmitted through close contact, coughs, sneezes and touching contaminated surfaces.

While children are usually mildly affected by the illness, professional treatment may be required. A diagnosis can be made by a doctor, physically examining the tonsils, gently feeling for swelling in lymph nodes (in the neck), taking swabs of the throat to observe under a microscope, or performing a blood cell count. Antibiotics may be prescribed as a treatment.

Nurse performing a mouth swab test on a little child.
Photo sourced from iStock

Visit Tonsillitis - NHS (www.nhs.uk) for more information.

What are the Symptoms?

Symptoms for Tonsillitis:

  • a sore throat
  • difficulty swallowing
  • a high temperature of 38C or above
  • coughing
  • headache
  • nausea
  • earache
  • feeling tired
  • swollen, painful glands in the neck (feels like a lump on the side of your neck)
  • white pus-filled spots on the tonsils
  • bad breath
Photographer: Annie Spratt | Source: Unsplash

What is the Treatment?

The best treatment is prevention. Regularly disinfecting surfaces and items, including bedding, drinks bottles and toys handled by children, will reduce transmission. Encouraging children not to share cups, bottles or cutlery is recommended, as is teaching good hygiene such as regular hand washing and using tissues to cough into.

If children are suspected to have tonsillitis, parents should be advised to keep children at home, as avoiding those who are ill is the most effective form of prevention. Other parents should also be informed if tonsillitis is present in the setting so they can look out for symptoms.

Keeping children hydrated, letting them rest and comforting them are all important. Paracetamol can be used to ease aches and pains and reduce fevers. On very rare occasions tonsils may be removed as a cure, but only if there is severe tonsillitis that is recurring (keeps coming back, even after treatment).

If practitioners and parents are unsure, advice from a doctor should be sought. Professional guidance should be gained if fevers increase and remain high or a child is having difficulty breathing.

Photographer: Dovile Ramoskaite | Source: Unsplash

If a child has contracted tonsillitis, the best ways to treat them are:

  • Wearing PPE around infected children
  • Keeping them at home - all following treatments should be done at home as they should not be in their setting
  • Monitoring their temperature
  • Keeping them hydrated, drinking plenty of water rather than juice
  • Giving cool drinks and foods to soothe the throat (such as ice cream, yoghurts, ice lollies)
  • Letting them rest
  • Giving them paracetamol to bring down temperatures and ease discomfort, if needed. Labels should always be read to ensure age-appropriate dosage is given. Parental permission must be acquired before giving ANY medication to children. It is recommended that first aiders administer medications.
  • Consulting pharmacists or doctors for further advice and information on suitable treatments; lozenges, throat sprays, and antiseptic solutions may be an option
  • Making an appointment with a GP if the symptoms do not improve or disappear after a suitable length of time. The suggested time frame is 3-4 days, but personal judgement should always be used. If symptoms worsen within this time frame, such as consistently high temperatures, severe dehydration, or laboured breathing, seek advice from a medical professional by calling 111 or 999 immediately.
Photographer: Derek Finch | Source: Unsplash

Fun Facts

(courtesy of 10 Fascinating Facts About the Tonsils)

We actually have more than 2 tonsils. The term tonsils usually refers to your palatine tonsils, which are the ones that can be seen at the back of your throat. But tonsillar tissue also includes the lingual tonsil (located in the base of the tongue), tubal tonsils, and the adenoid tonsil.

The tonsils are the bodies first responders to inhaled or ingested pathogens that can cause infection or other harm. They essentially kick start the immune system when detecting harmful pathogens.

If the tonsils become too enlarged, they can cause airway obstruction, snoring, obstructive sleep apnea, and even facial deformities. Fortunately, the adenoids tend to naturally decrease in size during adulthood, which is why tonsillitis is less common in older people.

Removing tonsils is believed to have been a recognised procedure for three millennia. The procedure has been found in ancient Ayurvedic texts. Thankfully the procedure has evolved since its conception and is now less painful than it used to be!