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Tonsillitis Diagnosis with Dr. Vakkalanka

As a specialist in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, Dr. Sarah Vakkalanka with Pacifica ENT in Huntington Beach and Orange County, California, treats tonsillitis in both children and adults. Although common, tonsillitis can be tricky to diagnose because it’s usually caused by an infection. A proper diagnosis starts with determining the source of the infection and then developing a comprehensive treatment plan.

What are the tonsils?

The tonsils are two small pads of lymphatic tissue that sit in the back of the throat, one of each side. The surface of these oval-shaped masses contains a specialized material that works as kind of an alert system for the body. When the tonsils detect something they deem as dangerous entering that pathway at the back of the throat, they stimulate an immune system response to fight off the invasion. The tonsils serve as the first line of defense against pathogens that you might inhale or ingest in food.

How do you get tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis means that the patch of tissue is swollen. The common reason for inflammation is an infection. Unfortunately, the location of the tonsils makes them prone to infection, either bacterial or viral. Swelling in this area presents a significant problem, though. If the tonsils become too enlarged, you may have difficulty breathing. Even a little swelling will make swallowing a painful experience.

How is tonsillitis diagnosed?

It is not hard for Dr. Vakkalanka to tell when one of her patients has tonsillitis. A simple examination of the throat allows her to see the swollen tonsils. The next step is to determine what is causing the swelling. There are often warning signs of common infections like strep, for example. A person with strep may also have a rash. A swollen spleen combined with tonsillitis may indicate mononucleosis.

A throat swab will allow for an exact diagnosis. Dr. Vakkalanka or another staff member will rub a sterile swab on the back of the throat and send it to the lab. The lab will be able to identify the exact pathogen in about two days.

How is tonsillitis treated?

If the infection is bacterial, Dr. Vakkalanka will probably prescribe a course of antibiotics like penicillin along with some home treatments such as regular gargling with salt water and over-the-counter medication to control fever and pain. For viral infections, the treatment is home care and rest.

For patients with chronic tonsillitis or if the infection doesn’t respond to treatment, the best answer might be surgery. Dr. Vakkalanka may also recommend surgical removal of the tonsils if there are complications due to the swelling like sleep apnea.