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What did we use our tonsils for in the past? Why do they get infected? Why do we remove them? Why don't we use them any more?
Question Date: 2001-05-08
Answer 1:

Everybody has heard of tonsils. However, not everyone knows what tonsils do in the body or why they may need to be removed. Knowing the facts can help alleviate the fears of both parents and children facing a tonsillectomy. Regarding your first question, tonsils do serve important immunological functions as discussed below, and they have probably served a similar utility throughout human evolution.

Tonsils are masses of glandular tissue located on both sides of the throat. The tonsils trap bacteria and viruses entering through the throat and produce antibodies to help fight infections. You can usually see the tonsils by looking down ones throat using a flashlight.

Tonsillitis occurs when tonsils become infected and swell. Tonsils can sometimes get so loaded with bacteria or other patogens that they themselves may become the source of infection. If you have persistent or recurring tonsillitis, your doctor may suggest that they be removed. Children do not suffer from more infections without their tonsils - other tissues in the body function the same as tonsils do, producing sufficient antibodies to fight infection.

There are several symptoms associated with tonsillitis. You may experience: sore throat, pain or discomfort when swallowing, fever, a raspy voice, and/or swollen glands (lymph nodes) in the neck.

If you look down ones throat, you may see red and swollen tonsils or a white or yellow coating on the tonsils. Don't rely on your own guesses, however, when it comes to your health or that of others as you may not be able to judge whether your tonsils are really infected. If you suspect tonsillitis, see your doctor.

Because of success with antibiotics, surgery is no longer the standard treatment for tonsillitis that it was years ago. For many children, enlarged or swollen tonsils are normal or may often be a result of allergic reactions to various foods (which may be reversed by dietary substitutions) or other external stimuli, but recurrent sore throats and infections should be evaluated by your doctor. Your doctor may order a throat culture to check for streptococcal throat infections, which usually respond well to antibiotic treatment.

Left alone, your enlarged tonsils may eventually shrink on their own, but your doctor may suggest a tonsillectomy if the swollen tonsils interfere with normal breathing, you are having difficulty swallowing, or experience recurrent throat infections.

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