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An infection of the tonsils is called tonsillitis. Tonsils are glands at the back of the throat. Tonsils are part of the immune system and help to fight germs in the mouth.
It is common for tonsils to get infected by viruses or bacteria (bacterial tonsillitis is sometimes called strep throat). Tonsillitis is common in children of all ages and often occurs when children have a cold, with a runny nose and a cough. In teenagers, glandular fever can cause severe
If your child has tonsillitis, they may have some of the following symptoms:
Older children may also complain of headache or abdominal pain.
If you think your child has tonsillitis for the first time, take them to the GP. If your child has had tonsillitis before and they usually improve with care at home, you don't always need to see a doctor.
As tonsillitis is often caused by a virus, your doctor may not prescribe antibiotics as these will not help your child.
Some children are likely to need antibiotics, including:
If there is difficulty with swallowing, some children are prescribed prednisolone (an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid medication) as well as or instead of antibiotics. Prednisolone reduces the swelling of the tonsils.
If your child is extremely unwell, drooling and having difficulty breathing, call an ambulance immediately. This may represent a dangerous inflammation of the epiglottis (a flap in the throat).
Most children with tonsillitis can be cared for at home after seeing a doctor (if necessary).
You can care for your child in the following ways:
Your child should stay at home until their fever is gone and they are able to swallow again. This will usually be three to four days.
If antibiotics are prescribed, give these to your child as directed, and make sure you complete the full course of antibiotics.
You should go back to see your GP if your child has tonsillitis and:
Why isn't my child being treated with antibiotics?
Even when tonsillitis is caused by bacteria (strep throat),
this is usually an infection that the child can recover from without the need
for antibiotics. Antibiotics do not improve the symptoms of tonsillitis, and
most children have a sore throat for three to four days even if they do have
treatment with antibiotics.
Waiting to see if children will get better without
antibiotics is helpful as it builds up immunity to the infection and makes it
less likely that your child will get tonsillitis from that type of infection
again. If your child is having recurrent infections it may be helpful to change
the toothbrush after each infection, so that the tonsils will not be
How can I prevent tonsillitis spreading to the other
children in the family?
Good hygiene reduces the
chance of passing infections onto others. Good hygiene includes: regularly
washing hands thoroughly, not sharing cups or cutlery, not letting toothbrushes
touch, encouraging children to cough or sneeze into their elbow and using
tissues instead of hankies. Teach your child to throw tissues into the bin as
soon as they have used them and to wash their hands afterwards.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Developed July 2018.
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