Tonsillitis is a condition where the tonsils, clumps of fleshy tissue located on each side in the back of the throat, become infected by a virus or bacteria. Viral tonsillitis often subsides without any specific treatment; however, bacterial tonsillitis may require the administration of antibiotics in order for the infection to go away. Left untreated, tonsillitis can result in a variety of complications.
Tonsillitis causes the tonsils to become swollen. When left untreated, this swelling can cause an airway obstruction and interfere with normal breathing. This can cause sleep apnea, a condition where breathing intermittently stops or becomes very shallow during sleep.
Patients who suffer from sleep apnea can have 5 to 30 pauses in their breathing during a single night’s sleep, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Sleep apnea disrupts sleep, resulting in daytime sleepiness.
When the tonsils are infected they produce pus, which is a viscous fluid consisting of white blood cells, cell debris and dead cells. The pus can become trapped in the space between the soft tissues of the tonsils and result in an abscess. The pus in the abscess may leak into the bloodstream, causing further complications.
An abscess may require aspiration or drainage. Because some of the spaces are hard to physically reach, draining the abscess may prove difficult.
In some rare cases, tonsillitis caused by strains of streptococcus bacteria can result in kidney inflammation, a condition known as acute glomerulonephritis (AGN). The glomeruli are the tiny filtering screens in the kidneys responsible for removing waste products from the blood. When the bacteria infecting the tonsils enter into the bloodstream, the bacteria can find its way to the glomeruli. The body’s immune system responds by triggering inflammation, which can cause scar tissue to form. The scar tissue interferes with the glomeruli’s ability to effectively filter the blood, resulting in AGN.
Rheumatic fever can develop, especially in children, after an infection by the bacteria Streptococcus strain A. Rheumatic fever is the result of a delayed immune system response to the bacteria. It causes inflammation of the joints, rash, fever, weight loss, fatigue and stomach pains.
Treatment of Rheumatic fever involves the administration of antibiotics to fight the bacteria, anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the joint inflammation, and bed rest. Severe cases may require hospitalization. Because rheumatic fever can cause inflammation in the valves of the heart, diagnosis and treatment are imperative.