A pediatric patient undergoes an examination to diagnose her tonsillitis.

Children are the most common candidates to receive treatment for tonsillitis, but adults can also suffer from inflamed tonsils.

There are many times when both children and adults will experience the condition commonly known as a sore throat, which is characterized by swallowing difficulties, and a painful sensation in the throat itself. This is often due to a cold or some other virus, but there’s also a possibility that you may be experiencing tonsillitis.

Tonsils can become infected by pre-existing viruses or bacteria, and when that happens, they generally become enlarged and cause you to feel a sore throat, possibly a fever, and most likely some difficulty with swallowing. When you have at least five episodes of tonsillitis annually, this is considered a chronic condition.

If tonsils become enlarged for any reason, they can block the airway whenever you’re reclining or trying to go to sleep. This can bring on the condition known as sleep apnea, which can be a dangerous thing all on its own – someone with sleep apnea may experience as many as 50 stoppages of breathing during the course of a night.

In some rare cases, it’s even possible for tonsils to become cancerous, and in that kind of situation, surgery is definitely indicated to remove the tonsils. However, there may be other times as well when removal of your tonsils can be a beneficial thing, as the discussion below will bear out.

When Tonsils Should be Removed

There are two primary reasons why you should consider a tonsillectomy. The first of these is that you have chronic sleep apnea which significantly disrupts your sleep. The other warning sign which may indicate a tonsillectomy is that you’re experiencing recurrent tonsillitis, triggered by strep throat for instance, or some other kind of infection.

There are less common triggers for removal of your tonsils as well, those being the presence of abscesses or tumors. Tonsillectomy is indicated far more often in youngsters than in adults, simply because children generally have less robust immune systems than adults, and they are less well-equipped to fight off viruses and infections.

Historically, removal of the tonsils has led to significantly reduced occurrences of infection for those people who have a chronic history of tonsillitis. Since tonsils don’t provide any really critical function to the body, there are no long-term ill effects which accrue to someone who has them removed, and the recovery time associated with having a tonsillectomy performed is relatively low.

Symptoms of Tonsillitis

As mentioned previously, the primary symptoms of tonsillitis include a painful sore throat, usually on one side or the other. Although this won’t be externally visible, the tonsils also appear to be inflamed and may secrete pus. Someone bothered by tonsillitis may also have difficulty with swallowing, bleeding spots on the tonsils, a runny nose or stuffy nose, a high fever, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck.

When tonsillitis becomes chronic, you may experience seven or more infections in the same year, or at least five infections per year in back-to-back years, or at least three infections annually for a period of three years. This is the medical definition of chronic infection for tonsillitis, but if it seems to you that you’re constantly dealing with the effects of inflamed tonsils, you won’t need to compare your condition to the detailed medical definition.

Both children and adults will experience the same indications for tonsillitis, but adults are far less prone to the condition because as people grow older, tonsils will generally shrink in size, and become much less susceptible to infection.

A woman experiences discomfort associated with inflamed tonsils.

Adults can experience inflamed tonsils as a result of a throat infection. Recovery times associated with adult tonsil surgery are shorter thanks to a more robust immune response when compared to pediatric cases.

When Enlarged Tonsils Become Dangerous

One of the most common harmful effects of tonsillitis is that it can trigger sleep apnea, which in turn causes abnormal breathing during rest periods. Children are particularly affected by this, and when they are bothered by sleep apnea, it is generally be manifested as hyperactivity during the waking hours of the day.

Some symptoms which are not quite so apparent are when a strain on the heart or lungs develops. There can also be a hormonal disruption in children, which can promote obesity. While these conditions may be difficult to diagnose on their own, when tonsillitis is suspected and sleep apnea is involved, it’s much easier to associate any other symptoms with their true cause.

How Do Adults and Children Benefit from Tonsillectomy?

Children benefit more frequently from having their tonsils removed than do adults, primarily because children are afflicted more often than older people are by tonsillitis. That means there are more cases of sleep apnea and chronic tonsillitis in young people than there are in adults. Children can definitely benefit by having their tonsils removed when either chronic tonsillitis is involved, or when the condition has led to sleep apnea.

However, adults may also benefit from tonsillectomies under certain conditions. If an adult should be troubled by sleep apnea, or by the same chronic sore throats that a youngster might, there is a definite possibility that they would enjoy improved sleep and a better quality of life by having their tonsils removed.

Of course, it should be remembered that, as with any other kind of surgery, there are certain risks involved with having your tonsils removed. When surgery becomes a possibility, you should discuss the situation thoroughly with your family doctor, and then consider the risks versus the rewards to be obtained by tonsillectomy.