Chronic tonsillitis is a condition in which recurring viral or bacterial infections of the tonsils lead to constant inflammation and soreness. When the tonsils are chronically inflamed, they swell and lead to significant, persistent pain in the throat and jaw. The condition is most often seen in children and adolescents under the age of 15, though adults can also develop lasting tonsil problems. Surgery is necessary in most cases of chronic tonsillitis to relieve symptoms and help prevent future throat infections.
The tonsils are two masses of tissue located on either side of the throat near the jaw. Their exact function is not well understood, but they appear to play a role in preventing throat and respiratory infections. The glands themselves, however, are very susceptible to infection in children and adults. When the tonsils experience multiple infections, small openings called crypts form in which bacteria can accumulate. Bacteria that build up over time cause bad breath and set the stage for frequent infections and chronic tonsillitis.
The symptoms associated with chronic tonsillitis are often very uncomfortable. A person is likely to experience swallowing difficulties and frequent sore throats due to inflammation and swelling. The lower jaw feels sore and very tender to the touch, and pain in and under the ears is common. In addition, some people suffer from headaches and fevers that last days at a time. Without treatment, it is possible for swelling and infection to become severe enough to cause dangerous airway constriction, abscesses in the throat, and full body chills.
A physician or dentist can usually diagnose chronic tonsillitis by reviewing the patient's medical history and inspecting the tonsils with medical instruments. If he or she has experienced multiple throat infections in the recent past, it is likely that the tonsils are significantly damaged and very susceptible to pathogens. The doctor can use a swab to collect a sample of mucus from a tonsil to confirm the presence of a specific bacteria or virus.
Instances of acute tonsillitis are treated with antibiotics or antiviral drugs, but chronic problems do not typically respond to medication. Surgery is usually needed to remove the tonsils and repair surrounding throat tissue. A tonsillectomy is performed by a surgeon called an otolaryngologist, often in an outpatient clinic or private office. The procedure only takes about one hour and has a high success rate. By following a special diet, taking antibiotics, and attending checkups, patients often experience full recoveries from their symptoms within two months.