Tonsils are lymph nodes in the back of the throat that play a role in fighting infections. The most common cause of one swollen tonsil is the common cold virus, but it is sometimes caused by other viral or bacterial infections. The most frequently seen bacterial causative agent is the bacteria that produces strep throat. Tonsils produce white blood cells that fight bacteria and viruses. When they become overwhelmed by an infection, they become swollen and inflamed, causing the condition known as tonsillitis.
One swollen tonsil is most frequently noted in children between pre-school age and the mid-teenage years. At times, both tonsils may be swollen, rather than just one. In addition to this symptom, they might experience fever, a sore throat, or headache. Swallowing may be painful and they may speak with a scratchy voice. The tonsils may be red and may contain white or yellow patches.
A doctor should be consulted when these symptoms are seen, as complications might result from the condition going untreated. Frequent bouts of one swollen tonsil might cause a condition known as sleep apnea, which is the temporary cessation of breathing during sleep. Other complications include the infection spreading to surrounding tissues in the throat, or the breathing pathway becoming completely blocked. In cases where one swollen tonsil is caused by strep throat, the untreated condition may lead to very serious medical disorders.
If tests show that the one swollen tonsil is caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics will be prescribed. Depending on the severity of the infection, they may be administered as a shot or in pill form. If pills are prescribed, it is imperative that they be taken the entire recommended period. Sometimes a parent will stop administering the medicine once the symptoms subside. This might result in the infection not being eliminated.
Further doctor recommendations for tonsil problems may include drinking plenty of fluids, especially warm ones rather than hot. Gargling with warm saltwater might help. Throat lozenges containing benzocaine might alleviate pain, but should not be used by young children due to the choking potential. The administration of acetaminophen may also help with pain and fever, but a child should never be given aspirin.
Hygienic practices can also help to prevent one swollen tonsil from reoccurring. Children can be trained to wash their hands thoroughly and often, particularly after visiting the restroom or before meals. They should also abstain from sharing food and drinks with others. Instructing a child to sneeze or cough into a tissue or his or her elbow can help prevent the spread of the infection.