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Tonsils are the infection-fighting lymph nodes located on either side of the back of the mouth. Sometimes the tonsils become inflamed because of chronic infections, this causes chronic sore throats. This is most common in children between the ages of 5 and 15—although it can occur at any age.
Pharyngitis, otherwise known as a sore throat, is inflammation of the pharynx, the portion of the throat that lies just beyond the back of the roof of the mouth and stretches to the Adam's apple (larynx). It usually occurs when viruses (or sometimes, bacteria) from a cold, flu, or sinus infection involve the throat. Pharyngitis is very common but rarely serious. Most cases clear up on their own after three to 10 days and require no therapy other than pain relievers to ease discomfort. Some cases will require antibiotic therapy to treat a bacterial cause.
Once considered a nuisance and frequently removed surgically, the tonsils do serve an immune system role. They are also the respiratory system's first line of defense; trapping and neutralizing infectious agents before they can penetrate the bronchial passages. Children's tonsils are large; they reach their maximum size at around age six or seven and then start to shrink. Because of their continuous exposure to infectious agents, the tonsils sometimes become overwhelmed by infection, resulting in tonsillitis. There is no long term detriment to having your tonsils removed when it is necessary.
Although tonsillitis usually goes away on its own within a week, it still warrants a physician's attention to identify the infectious agent. Bacterial infections, particularly strep throat, require prescription medication. A serious infection can also lead to peritonsillar abscess, an accumulation of pus in the tissues around the tonsils.
Chronic, recurrent tonsillitis may require surgery, known as a tonsillectomy (removal of the tonsils). Our experts, a team of pediatric otolaryngologists (ENTs) at the Johns Hopkins Division of Pediatric Otolaryngology, evaluate children with chronic sore throats to determine if removal of the tonsils is the correct course of treatment.
While many physicians may recommend surgery as a way to prevent the infections, it is important to weigh the risks and benefits of doing so. Our pediatric ENTs will discuss the tonsillectomy with parents so they can make an informed decision about what is best for their child. Learn more about tonsillectomy at Johns Hopkins.
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