Tonsilitis is a germ disease and is contagious. Exposure to cold and wet and to germ laden air renders persons more liable to attacks. It is more likely to occur in young people, especially those who have already suffered from the disease and whose tonsils are chronically enlarged, and is most prevalent in this country in spring. The disease appears to be often associated with rheumatism. Tonsilitis begins much like grippe , with fever, headache, backache and pain in the limbs, sore throat, and pain in swallowing. On inspecting the throat (with the tongue held down firmly by a spoon handle and the mouth widely open in a good light, preferably sunlight) the tonsils will be seen to be swollen, much reddened, and dotted over with pearl white spots.
Sometimes only one tonsil is so affected, but the other is likely to become inflamed also. Occasionally there may be only one spot of white on the tonsil. The swelling differs in degree; in some cases the tonsils may be so swollen as almost to meet together, but there is no danger of suffocation from obstruction of the throat, as occurs in diphtheria and very rarely in quinsy. The characteristic appearance then consists in large, red tonsils covered with white spots. The spots represent discharge which fills in the depressions in the tonsil. The fever lasts three days to a week, generally, and then subsides together with the other symptoms.
With apparent tonsilitis there must always be kept in mind the possibility of diphtheria, and, unfortunately, it is at times impossible for the most acute physician to distinguish between these two diseases by the appearances of the throat alone. In order to do so it is necessary to rub off some of the discharge from the tonsils, and examine, microscopically, the kind of germs contained therein. The general points of difference are: in diphtheria the tonsils are usually completely covered with a gray membrane. In the early stage, or in mild cases of diphtheria, there may be only a spot on one tonsil, but it is apt to be yellow in color, and is thicker than the white spots in tonsilitis. These are the difficult cases. Ordinarily, in diphtheria, not only are the tonsils covered with a grayish membrane, but this soon extends to the surrounding parts of the throat, whereas in tonsilitis the spots are always found on the tonsil alone. The white spot can be readily wiped off with a little absorbent cotton wound on a stick, in the case of tonsilitis, but in diphtheria the membrane can be removed in this way only with difficulty, and leaves underneath a rough, bleeding surface. The breath is apt to have a bad odor in diphtheria, and the temperature is lower (not much over 100° F.) than in tonsilitis, when it is frequently 101° to 103° F. Notwithstanding these points, it is never safe for a layman to undertake the diagnosis when a physician’s services are obtainable. On the other hand, when this is not possible and the patient’s tonsils present the white, dotted appearance described, especially if subject to similar attacks, one may be reasonably sure that the case is tonsilitis.
Treatment. The patient should be put to bed and kept apart from children and young persons, and, if living among large numbers of people, should be strictly quarantined. For, although the disease is not dangerous, it quickly spreads in institutions, boarding schools, etc. If the tonsils are painted with a solution of silver nitrate (one drachm to the ounce of water), applied carefully with a camel’s hair brush, at the beginning of the attack, and making two applications twelve hours apart, the disease may sometimes be arrested. It is well also at the start to open the bowels with calomel, giving three grains in a single dose, or divided doses of one half grain each until three grains have been taken. Pain is relieved by phenacetin in three to five grain doses as required, but not taken oftener than once in three hours, while at night five to ten grains of Dover’s powder (for an adult) will secure sleep. For children one half drop doses of the (poisonous) tincture of aconite is preferable to phenacetin. The outside of the throat should be kept covered with wet flannel wrung out in cold water and covered with oil silk, or an ice bag may be conveniently used in its place. A half teaspoonful of the following prescription is beneficial unless it disagrees with the stomach. It must not be taken within half an hour of a meal, and is not to be diluted with water, as it acts, partly through its local effect, on the tonsils when allowed to flow from a spoon on the back of the tongue.
[Rx] Glycerin 4 ounces Tincture of chloride of iron 1/2 ounce
Mix. Directions, half teaspoonful every half hour.
A mixture of hydrogen dioxide, equal parts, with water can also be used to advantage as a spray in an atomizer every two hours. The phenacetin and Dover’s powder must be discontinued as soon as the pain and sleeplessness cease, but the iron preparation and spray should be continued until the throat regains its usual condition. A liquid diet is desirable during the first part of the attack, consisting of milk, cocoa, eggnog (made of the white of egg), soups, and gruels; orange juice may be allowed, also grapes. The bowels must be kept regular with mild remedies, as a Seidlitz powder in a glass of water in the morning, or one or two two grain tablets of extract of cascara sagrada at night.