A common childhood ailment, tonsillitis affects most kids between ages five and 15. While uncomfortable, most children take the prescribed antibiotic and are better in a week. But for those who experience recurrent tonsillitis, this painful condition can be challenging to live with.
What Is Tonsillitis?
The most common cause of tonsillitis is the group A streptococcus, the bacterium that causes strep throat. Symptoms include:
- Red, swollen tonsils
- Yellow or white coating on the tonsils
- Sore throat
- Painful swallowing
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Scratchy or muffled voice
For most, the recommended treatment for tonsillitis is a course of antibiotics. Children who experience recurrent infections may require a procedure to remove their tonsils, known as a tonsillectomy.
Recurrent Tonsillitis Study
Researchers from the La Jolla Institute for Immunology were interested in why some children are more susceptible to recurrent tonsil infections than others. They examined the immunological characteristics of children between five and 18 in the San Diego area. In total, they collected samples from 66 children who had their tonsils removed because of recurrent infection and 80 children who required a tonsillectomy for other reasons.
The results of their study were published in Science Translational Medicine in February 2019.
They determined that children with recurrent tonsillitis had a higher population of T follicular helper cells, known as Tfh cells. Traditionally, these cells help B cells mature and create antibodies to protect the body from specific pathogens. But the newly identified Tfh cells found in these children were capable of killing B cells, rather them helping them mature and fight off infection.
The researchers also determined that a strep antigen called SpeA activates these Tfh cells. The children with recurrent tonsillitis had lower levels of antibodies against SpeA. The levels of antibodies against different strep antigens were similar among all children tested. The researchers think this means that while all children were exposed to strep bacteria, only those who were susceptible to recurrent tonsillitis had an immune response to SpeA.
Using these results, the researchers suggest that a vaccine with an inactive version of SpeA could protect against strep throat and recurrent tonsillitis. This vaccine would trigger the body to create antibodies against SpeA and prevent the Tfh cells from killing the B cells. To learn more about tonsillitis or to schedule an appointment with a throat expert, contact Waco Ear, Nose & Throat today.