The tonsils, those two small glands on either side of the throat, form part of the body’s immune system, the first line of defense against harmful microorganisms.
When we breathe, the air we take in goes through them, and thus viruses and bacteria are filtered out.
In case of a viral or bacterial infection, the tonsils become swollen due to inflammation.
Generally speaking, only about 20 to 30 percent of cases of tonsillitis are caused by Group A Streptococcus.
The bacterial infection could worsen into a scarlet fever, a condition that causes distinctive pink-red skin rashes, especially among child patients.
Most cases of tonsillitis are caused by viruses such as enterovirus (EV) or adenovirus infections, which are particularly active during spring and summer.
The influenza virus and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) are also possible causes of the infection.
According to clinical studies, kindergarten and primary school pupils are most vulnerable to tonsillitis.
Patients would have a sore throat, and their tonsils would become red and swollen, or even carry white, pus-filled spots.
Other common symptoms include headache, fever, difficulty in swallowing and swollen and painful lymph glands in the neck.
Both viral and bacterial infections of the tonsils yield more or less the same symptoms. However, treatments and approaches are completely different.
Thorough examination through bacterial culture, rapid tests, blood check or antibody tests are conducted, if necessary, to determine whether it is a viral or bacterial infection.
Antibiotics like penicillin would be required for curing tonsillitis caused by strep bacteria.
In case of a viral infection, medicines are prescribed mainly to alleviate the symptoms, allowing the patient’s own immune system to fight the virus.
Antibiotics are ineffective in treating viral tonsillitis.
Some children with weaker immunity in their tonsils might develop chronic tonsillitis with enlarged tonsils, leading to breathing troubles, obstructive sleep apnea, sinusitis, middle ear infection, and other ailments.
The surgical removal of the enlarged tonsils, known as tonsillectomy, might be necessary in severe cases.
Since both viral and bacterial infections are contagious, parents should stay vigilant and take good care of their children’s personal hygiene.
Avoid bringing young children to crowded places to prevent contact with infected persons.
Cut their consumption of crisps and biscuits because food scraps could lead to bacterial growth in the mouth.
If your child shows symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections (URTI), parents should bring them to their family doctors.
Don’t take over-the-counter drugs, or worse, antibiotics without prescription.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 23.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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