About Tonsillitis: Treatment and Prevention

Although giving antibiotics for a throat infection without first determining the presence of bacteria is generally frowned upon by experts, tonsillitis is an exception because bacteria are more likely than viruses to cause these infections.

Often, when a child has tonsillitis, family members may be tested to see if they're asymptomatic (symptom-less) carriers of group A streptococcus. If so, they may be given antibiotics to ensure that the whole family is strep-free, protecting the child from re-infection.

A few children do get chronic or recurring infections. If they don't respond to antibiotics, tonsillectomy (surgical removal of the tonsils) may be necessary. Doctors are trying to limit the number of these operations, however, because no operation is completely safe and tonsillitis doesn't justify taking risks unless it's severe. Quinsy is usually treated by removing the tonsils as well as draining the abscess and giving antibiotics.

Viral tonsillitis can't be cured but will go away on its own. You can give acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) to ease symptoms, but don't give aspirin to children with viral infections as it can lead to Reye's syndrome, a very dangerous condition that affects the brain.

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