The tonsils, which are part of the lymphatic system, are present at the back of the throat. There are two tonsils, one on either side at the back of the throat. When you open your mouth wide open in front of a mirror, you can see them. The two fleshy bumps that can be seen at the sides and back of the throat are the tonsils. The size of tonsils varies from person to person.
What are the functions of tonsils?
The primary function of the tonsil is to trap germs that enter the body when you breathe in. Although tonsil is a very small organ in size, it has a significant role in strengthening the immune system. When you breathe in or take a bite, the tonsils prevent disease-causing germs from entering the lungs. These lymphatic masses of cells filter microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses that can enter the digestive system and further cause any problems.
They are the first line of defense against inhaled pathogens. Let’s understand this in more detail. Tonsils identify infectious bacteria or viruses that enter the body through nose or mouth and drains them through the lymph (a colorless and clear fluid).
The tonsils contain a certain type of white blood cell that can destroy the virus-infected cells and boosts up the immune system of the body.
Why do tonsils swell?
The tonsils swell when there is a germ build-up that leads to infection of the tonsils. This is known as tonsillitis. Some of the viruses that can infect the tonsils are-
- Adenoviruses that cause the common cold, sore throats, etc.
- Epstein-Barr virus that causes mononucleosis that can spread through the saliva.
- Herpes simplex virus type that causes oral herpes.
- Measles virus that infects the respiratory system.
Other than viruses, a type of bacteria known as group A Streptococcus can also cause swelling of the tonsils.
What are the problems that can occur in the tonsils?
Here is a list of problems that can occur in the tonsils. These are discussed below-
- Acute tonsillitis
- Chronic tonsillitis
- Acute mononucleosis
- Strep throat
- Enlarged tonsils that can cause sleeping disorders or snore
- Formations of tonsil stones
- Formations of peritonsillar abscess
How do I know that there are problems in the tonsils?
Look out for the following signs and symptoms to check if you have any problems in the tonsils-
- Irritation of the tonsils
- Scratchiness in the throat
- Soreness in the throat
- White spots on the tonsils
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Foul breath
- Continuous fatigue
Is it safe to remove the tonsils?
When the infections in the tonsils cause major complications such as difficulty while breathing/eating or sleeping disorders, then removing them permanently is the only option. The procedure of removing tonsils surgically is known as tonsillectomy.
Tonsils and adenoids play an important role in preventing infections mainly in children. By the time the child reaches pre-teens, the adenoids shrink. This is so because on reaching adolescence, the body builds up other means of fighting off infections. Therefore, it is comparatively safe to remove the tonsils without any complications.
Can tonsils grow back?
During a tonsillectomy, if some of the tissue is left behind these can grow back in the future and can cause tonsillitis. Some of the risk factors that can contribute to tonsil regrowth are-
- At a very young age, tonsils are removed.
- Patients suffer from allergies or infections in the upper respiratory tract.
Also Read: 10 Food To Avoid During Tonsillitis