What Are Tonsils and What Do They Do?

TonsilsTonsils: Some of us have them, some of us don’t, and many of us don’t have any idea what they do. In this blog, we are going to talk about just that.

First and foremost, there are three types of tonsils; which may come as a surprise to some people. U.S. National Library of Medicine explains:

The 2 palatine tonsils are found to the right and to the left. The adenoids are situated above the roof of the throat, and the lingual tonsil is located far back at the base of the tongue on its rear surface.Together, they are called the tonsillar ring.

As part of the lymphatic system, the tonsils are designed to help fight infection.They are positioned to stop germs, viral and bacterial, from entering through the mouth and nose.

All three types of tonsils are great when they’re healthy, but unfortunately because they are the initial defense for germs, tonsils often become swollen, or enlarged, and infected. The American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery warns:

[R]ecurrent infections of the nose and throat, and significant enlargement that causes nasal obstruction and/or breathing, swallowing, and sleep problems. Abscesses around the tonsils, chronic tonsillitis, and infections of small pockets within the tonsils that produce foul-smelling white deposits can also affect the tonsils and adenoids, making them sore and swollen.

The two most common conditions are called tonsillitis and adenoiditis. When you have tonsillitis, your palatine tonsils are inflamed — this is the type of infection you usually hear about — and you can see them clearly. Other symptoms include difficulty swallowing as well as the sore throat and tender lymph nodes. You can’t see adenoiditis, but your doctor can through rhinoscopy, which is an examination of the inside of your nose. This issue is most commonly seen in children and in addition to throat pain and swollen glands, symptoms often include congested nose, ear pain, snoring, and/or difficulty sleeping. Your lingual tonsil can also become infected and enlarged, however because of its position, that condition is more linked to sleep apnea than other ear, nose and throat symptoms.

WebMD suggests that make an appointment if you have a sore throat with any two of these signs of bacterial infection:

  • Fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher
  • White or yellow coating on the tonsils
  • Swollen, tender tonsils
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Rash
  • Abdominal (belly) pain and headache
  • Severe pain
  • Severe difficulty swallowing
  • Pain on only one side of the throat
  • Tonsillitis or sore throat that starts after being exposed to someone who has strep throat
  • 7 episodes of tonsillitis in 1 year despite treatment
  • Persistent mouth-breathing, snoring, or a very nasal- or muffled-sounding voice
  • Signs of dehydration, such as a dry mouth and tongue and urinating less than normal

At Westwood Ear, Nose & Throat, we specialize in tonsil and adenoid conditions and removal. Before we recommend any treatment, medicinal or surgical, we’ll sit down with you and discuss your symptoms and medical history. Next, we’ll perform a series of tests to find out what is causing your discomfort and what the right treatment is for you. Throughout the entire process, we’ll explain everything and take time to address all your questions and concerns.

If you’re in pain, seek counsel about your tonsils. Call us at (888) 230-3715 and schedule an appointment at one of our four conveniently-located offices around the state.

For information on all things ear, nose and throat, visit the Westwood ENT website and blog.

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