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What is Viral Tonsillitis?

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  • Written By: K.C. Bruning
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2016
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Viral tonsillitis is an infectious illness which causes inflammation of the tonsils. Unlike bacterial tonsillitis, it cannot be cured with antibiotics, but must be healed by the body’s natural defense system. The infection is a congestion characterized by a sore throat, fever, and swollen tonsils. It is most commonly contracted by children.

Some of the viruses that can cause tonsillitis include adenovirus, influenza, and Epstein Bar. In rare situations, the infection can also be caused by parasites or a fungus. The infection can be spread by coughs, sneezes, and bodily secretions. Symptoms of viral tonsillitis typically appear two to five days after the infection is contracted.

Though viral tonsillitis cannot be cured by medications, it can be made more bearable with medications for pain relief and reducing fever. General over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can reduce discomfort. Drinking tea and gargling with warm salt water can also help to relieve throat pain. Throat lozenges and frozen foods can offer additional relief. Due to the risk of contracting Reye syndrome, individuals under twenty years old should not take aspirin to manage the symptoms of viral tonsillitis.

The most common symptom of viral tonsillitis is a sore throat. Other symptoms include a fever, swollen lymph nodes, and difficulty swallowing. The tonsils may become swollen, covered with patches, and filled with pus. Congestion of the nasal passages, abdominal pain, and headache are other common symptoms. Patients may also notice they have particularly bad breath.

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Most mild viral tonsillitis infections will go away without medical treatment within two weeks. A mild infection tends to consist of symptoms of the common cold with a sore throat. More severe symptoms, such as a sudden high temperature and swollen lymph nodes, could be the sign of a serious infection and should be reported to a doctor.

The primary risk factor for contracting viral tonsillitis is contact with an infected individual. An obstructed nasal passageway can also be risky as it forces breathing through the mouth, which increases the risk of tonsillitis. Though there is no proven connection between cigarette smoke and viral tonsillitis, there is a higher incidence of tonsil removal among children who live with or are in regular contact with smokers.

Viral tonsillitis is best avoided with proper hygiene and vigilance. Staying away from infected individuals, regularly washing hands, and covering coughs and sneezes are all effective. All surfaces in the home, office, and school should be kept clean and disinfected. It is also advisable to stay away from second-hand smoke.

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