Tonsillitis is a condition in which the tonsils, which are lymph nodes located in the throat, become inflamed or swollen because of infection. Either a bacterial or viral throat infection can lead to tonsillitis, with varying courses of treatment according to cause and severity. Recurrent tonsillitis is defined as multiple bouts of the throat infection in a given period of time, using parameters that might vary by physician. Aggressive treatment, up to and including surgical removal of the patient's tonsils, might be required for recurrent tonsillitis.
The tonsils play an important part in the body's immune system. They filter out harmful viruses and bacteria before they can enter and infect the body. If the tonsils catch a large amount of infection, the lymph nodes might become overloaded with viruses or bacteria, resulting in tonsillitis.
Although tonsillitis can occur at any age, this throat infection is most common in young children. Patients afflicted with tonsillitis might exhibit any of a number of symptoms that are also commonly present in several other illnesses, such as fever, sore throat and headache. Symptoms that a caregiver might observe visually include swollen and inflamed tonsils. The swollen tonsils might cause difficulty swallowing and ear pain. Patients and caregivers who have dealt with recurrent tonsillitis might recognize the symptoms sooner than people suffering from the throat infection for the first time.
Recurrent tonsillitis can be diagnosed based on the frequency of infection within a single calendar year, with anywhere from three to seven bouts of tonsillitis required in that time to qualify. Some doctors also factor several years of a patient's medical history into the diagnosis. In these cases, recurrent tonsillitis might be confirmed if, for example, the patient has five or more infections in each of two separate years or at least three infections in each of three different years.
After a patient meets the criteria for a diagnosis of recurrent tonsillitis, his physician might recommend a tonsillectomy. This is a surgical procedure in which the tonsils are removed to prevent future infections. Prevention of tonsillitis is important because, although it is generally a mild condition, several serious complications might arise. The tonsils might swell enough to block the patient's airway, problems with the kidney or cardiovascular system might result, or the patient might become dehydrated. Recurrent tonsillitis brings more chances for these complications to occur, making the risk to the patient outweigh the immune system benefits associated with keeping the tonsils intact.