Tonsillitis in toddlers and babies: what are the symptoms and treatment?

Tonsillitis is not traditionally an illness you associate with babies. Coughs, colds, constipation, yes. But tonsillitis seems like a grown up illness.

The condition is most common in children and teenagers, though sadly it’s also a very real threat to babies and toddlers.

One of the main symptoms is a sore throat, and while this is easy to complain about as an older child or adult, it can be hard to know that a baby has a sore throat if they can’t yet talk.

READ MORE: Common childhood illnesses

While this infection is painful for babies, it’s hard for their parents too. Your baby is in such pain that they may refuse to eat even when hungry. Baby will cry often, and every time they open their mouth, their red throat is visible, which can be worrying.

If you think your baby or toddler might be suffering from condition, here’s what you need to know…

What is tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is an infection on the tonsils – which are lumps of tissue on both sides at the back of the throat – and it’s normally caused by viruses and certain types of bacteria.

If it is caused by a virus, the body will fight off the infection on its own.

However, if it’s caused by strep bacteria, the doctor will prescribe an antibiotic. Make sure that your child takes the antibiotics exactly as directed and finishes the entire prescription — even if he or she starts feeling better in a few days — or the infection could come back.

 Tonsillitis in toddlers and babies: what are the symptoms and treatment?

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Sometimes, a doctor might recommend a tonsillectomy, which is a surgery to remove the tonsils, if a child’s tonsils get infected a lot or are so big they make it hard to breathe at night.

Tonsillitis causes: How do you catch it?

According to the NHS, tonsils are a part of the lymphatic system and constitute the body’s first line of defence.

The tonsils protect the upper respiratory system from bacteria that enter the body through the nose or mouth. Because of this it makes them vulnerable to infections, leading to tonsillitis.

Tonsillitis symptoms: how to spot the signs?

Watch for decreased appetite and drooling; sometimes, a baby may drool more than usual when he has tonsillitis because it hurts to swallow. Other symptoms include:

  • swollen or inflamed tonsils
  • sore throat
  • pain when swallowing
  • fever
  • hoarse voice
  • bad breath
  • ear pain

Is tonsillitis contagious?

If the tonsillitis is caused by a virus it can be contagious for about seven to 10 days.

Untreated bacterial tonsillitis may be contagious for about two weeks. However, people with the bacterial type treated with antibiotics generally become non-contagious 24 hours after starting antibiotic treatment for strep throat.

Tonsillitis in babies: additional advice

If your baby has been diagnosed with tonsillitis, make sure that they drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest. If it hurts your child to swallow, serve liquids and soft foods, like soups, milkshakes, smoothies, ice pops, or ice cream.

Other helpful advice is to keep your child’s drinking glasses and eating utensils separate, and wash them in hot, soapy water.