Tonsils are considered to be a part of the lymphatic system. This bodily system filters fluid around cells and is a major part of the immune system. There are actually three types of tonsils which include the adenoids located behind the nose, the palatine tonsils (those most familiar in the throat), and the lingual tonsils at the back of the tongue.
The tonsils within the lymphatic system provide a protective barrier from substances inhaled or ingested through the nose or mouth. Once foreign matter is trapped in the tonsils, the resultant viruses and bacteria travel to the lymph nodes where special immune cells group together to fight infection.
However, from time to time, this can backfire a bit and the tonsils themselves can become infected. When this happens, the tonsils (particularly the palatine tonsils) can become swollen or enlarged. This will be especially noticeable from a visual standpoint on the sides of the neck. Also, when swallowing, the feeling of a painful, pronounced “lump” in the throat will be present. When the tonsils themselves are swollen, the condition is rather generically referred to as tonsillitis. In addition, redness, pain and rather nasty-looking white or red spots will accompany the swelling.
If a person experiences repeated bouts of tonsillitis, a doctor my recommend surgical removal of either the palatine tonsils, adenoids, or both. This isn’t done as often as it used to be, but remains a viable option to relieve conditions such as chronic ear infections, sleep apnea, chronic sinusitis, impaired speech, and even chronic halitosis (bad breath).
Some of the most common infections that cause tonsils to swell include the following:
Strep throat-a common bacterial infection
Common Cold viruses, of which there are over 300 different varieties
Mononucleosis- a common infection found in teens and young adults
The Herpes Simplex virus
Typical symptoms will include the aforementioned swollen lymph glands around the neck, fever, possible nausea and vomiting, headache, loss of appetite, earaches, and bad breath.
Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. Strep throat, the most common of these, is responsible for about 10% of tonsillitis cases in adults and 30% in children. Viral infections cannot be treated with such medication and must run their course, which can range anywhere from a few days up to a month. However, some believe that certain herbal mixtures can speed this process up.
In addition, pain relievers such as aspirin or acetaminophen and plenty of liquids can help relieve the symptoms. Cold foods such as popsicles can help to numb the throat as well. In earlier times, ice cream was given especially to children that had just undergone a tonsillectomy, but this can actually clog the throat and make the person cough more, and thus the soreness is exacerbated!
Sore throats in themselves are very common, but if you notice that your tonsils (lymph glands) are swollen for more than a few days, a physician should be consulted to determine the cause.