Tonsil hypertrophy is a medical term for abnormally enlarged tonsil tissue. Located at the back of the throat, severe cases of this condition can make swallowing and breathing difficult. When the overly large tonsil tissue becomes a problem, a health care provider may recommend a corrective surgical procedure, called a tonsillectomy, to remove the excess tissue.
While some people are born with naturally enlarged tonsil tissues, the causes of tonsil hypertrophy are usually related to infection of the tonsils or the surrounding tissues. These infections fall into three categories: Acute Tonsillitis, Chronic Tonsillitis, and Peritonsillar Abscess. Commonly, infections that contribute to the onset of this condition are caused by Streptococcus bacteria or the Eppstein-Barr virus. In the case of a peritonsillar abscess, the bacterial infection forms in the back of the throat and creates a pus build-up behind the tonsil tissues, pushing tonsils forward.
The presence of tonsil hypertrophy may be indicated by several factors. As a result of the swollen tissue, the patient's voice may show slight changes. Individuals affected by this condition often exhibit halitosis, or bad breath, as a result of the infected tissues. Patients may also be prone to snoring. They may also suffer from sleep apnea or irregular sleeping patterns.
The enlarged tissues of the tonsils make swallowing difficult and painful, resulting in a decreased appetite. Particularly in the case of children, the enlarged tonsils may result in frequent ear infections and sinusitis; the tonsils and enlarged surrounding tissue may impede proper drainage of the Eustachian tubes and sinus cavities. Many children with tonsil hypertrophy also suffer from abnormal nasal drainage or blockages.
When left untreated, tonsil hypertrophy can lead to a vast assortment of other serious health conditions. The infections that may cause tonsil enlargement can spread to other areas of the throat and neck, eventually obstructing the airway. When the condition is caused by the Streptococcus bacteria, also called strep throat, damage to the kidneys and the valves of the heart can occur. In some cases, the infection in the tonsil tissues leads to secondary infections and pneumonia.
Medication and surgical procedures may effectively treat abnormally enlarged tonsils. Often, antibiotic drugs are used to defeat the infection and reduce the swelling of the tonsil tissue. After multiple bouts with chronic tonsillitis, or in particularly severe cases of tonsil hypertrophy, a health care provider may elect to perform a tonsillectomy to remove the hypertrophic tissues.