More Than a Sore Throat? 3 Reasons to See a Doctor for Tonsillitis

Everyone gets a sore throat from time to time, and while definitely painful, it’s usually nothing too serious. But if your child is experiencing severe symptoms, it could be tonsillitis – and it’s important to recognize the signs.

“A lot of times tonsillitis is associated with significant pain with swallowing. Fever and breathing problems can come with it as well,” says Dr. Shaun Scott of Charleston ENT and Allergy. “Those are some of the differentiating factors.”

Tonsillitis is especially common among children over the age of 3, and can often be treated with over-the-counter medicine, fluids and rest. But sometimes the problem is more severe and will require further action. Here are three ways to know when it’s time to do something about your child’s tonsillitis.

1. The Problem Keeps Happening

If your child is having recurrent infections, it could be a sign of chronic or recurrent tonsillitis. According to Dr. Scott, seven instances in one year, five instances over two years or three instances over three years could be indications for a tonsillectomy.

In the event of recurrent tonsillitis, your doctor will help you decide the best course of action. You may be able to treat the problem with antibiotics, anti-inflammatories or steroids. If not, a tonsillectomy may be the answer. It’s a very common surgery, with more than 500,000 American children undergoing the procedure each year.

2. The Child Is Not Responding to Initial Treatment

"If symptoms aren't improving with conservative treatment after five days, then that may be when tonsillitis is not a viral problem and you would need antibiotics, or at least be evaluated,” Dr. Scott says.

He also says to look out for complicating factors that are not improving, like high fever, poor appetite and dehydration.

3. It’s Affecting the Child’s Breathing and Sleep

A major reason doctors end up removing a child’s tonsils is because it’s causing sleep apnea and sleep-disordered breathing. Dr. Scott says to monitor children for snoring, obstructed breathing at night and restless sleep. Poor sleep related to ongoing tonsil problems can cause more issues down the line than parents realize.

“All of that can lead to your child being frequently tired during the day, having poor attention during the day, poor performance in school and behavior problems,” Dr. Scott says.

Ultimately, the decision to remove a child’s tonsils depends on several factors, such as the number of infections and associated symptoms, if they're not responding to medications, have allergies to multiple antibiotics or if they develop an abscess around a tonsil. Your doctor will help determine the appropriate course of action for your child depending on his or her specific situation.

All 12 Charleston ENT & Allergy clinics accept evaluation appointments for tonsillitis. For more information or to schedule an appointment with Charleston ENT & Allergy, call (843) 766-7103 or visit


Dr. Shaun N. Scott, a graduate of the University of Iowa, is a board-certified ENT specialist and member of the South Carolina Medical Association. He’s also a member of the Medical Society of South Carolina and the Charleston County Medical Society. Dr. Scott also serves as Volunteer Physician at a Charleston Area Charitable Medical Clinic.