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If you’re like most of the country, the only time you’ve had to think about your tonsils is when you have to consider removing them. But beyond that, what do you really know about them?

For instance, did you know that the tonsils and the adenoids are one of the first lines of defense your body has against bacterial infection? One reason they’re so susceptible to infection is just that–they’re designed to catch viruses and bacteria.

The tonsils and adenoids do this for a number of reasons. First, they provide a basic physical function in attracting bacteria and viruses, catching them, and preventing them from infecting more sensitive areas of the body like the lungs or throat. In addition, the tonsils and adenoids sample the bacteria and viruses that may enter your body in order to signal other immune responses. Similar to lymph nodes (found in the neck, the armpits and the groin) the tonsils and adenoids react to infection to protect the body.

If that’s the case, however, then why do we remove them?

Tonsils and adenoids, like any other part of the body, can become susceptible to attack by bacteria and viruses. Or, if they build up bacteria or viruses, they can cause recurrent infections of the nose and throat. Other issues that may appear include obstruction of the nasal passages and difficulty swallowing or breathing, due to the swelling of these glands.

If left untreated, infections of the tonsils can result in abscesses, resurgences of tonsilitis, and infections of the pockets in your tonsils that result in bad-smelling white deposits of dead bacteria and tissue. It is possible–if very unlikely–that tonsils may become cancerous; if tonsil cancer is detected, aggressive treatment is necessary.

Treatment options for tonsilitis should be sought if you or your child experiences recurring symptoms. This includes swelling, pain, and sore throats. If you seek treatment, there are many different ways to track down issues affecting the tonsils and adenoids. Everything from examining your medical history, to throat cultures.

If bacterial tonsilitis is detected (such as an infection like strep throat) the first option is most likely going to be antibiotics. A full antibiotic treatment is likely to take care of any issues with bacterial infection you may encounter. However, in cases of recurrent bacterial infection, it may become necessary to consider a tonsilectomy– a surgery to remove the tonsils.

Though a common procedure, a tonsilectomy is still a surgery. If a tonsilectomy is deemed necessary by a medical professional, follow his or her instructions carefully to avoid complications.

If you have any questions about tonsils, adenoids, or any other Ear, Nose, and Throat issues, please don’t hesitate to contact Oklahoma Otolaryngologist’s Association. We’re here to help you find the solutions you deserve.

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