You probably only notice your lingual tonsils — more commonly known as just tonsils — when they're infected. Suddenly, swallowing is painful and you notice that the lumps in the back of your throat are red, swollen and might also be covered in white patches.
Your tonsils are the first line of defence in your immune system, and the antibodies they produce fight the viruses or germs that invade your throat. However, sometimes the tonsils themselves become infected, and if you suffer from repeated bouts, it may be better to have your tonsils removed. Learning how the tonsils function in relation to the immune system and speaking with your doctor about your experience with infections can help you be more informed about tonsil removal.
What Are Tonsils?
It's easy to see your tonsils when you open your mouth wide and look in the mirror. At the back of your throat, you'll see two round, fleshy lumps: these are your tonsils. Tonsils are lymph nodes that produce antibodies to attack germs and viruses, and you have similar structures in your neck, armpits and groin.
Tonsils are especially important to the immune system as germs and viruses often enter through the mouth. According to the National Health Service (NHS), tonsils can stop infections from spreading further into the body, especially in young children. However, tonsils become less essential in preventing infection as we age: the structures shrink as our immune system grows stronger, and our bodies develop the ability to fight off infections without their help.
An infection in your lingual tonsils is called tonsillitis. Usually, it stems from a respiratory virus like the common cold or the flu, according to the NHS. Symptoms of tonsillitis include a sore throat, painful swallowing, a high fever, coughing, headache and earache. The Mayo Clinic reports that you might also see white or yellow patches on the tonsils. Individuals may experience frequent cases of tonsillitis, in which case they should speak with a medical professional.
Although tonsils help stop infections, tonsil removal is recommended for some patients. The procedure, called a tonsillectomy, prevents tonsillitis from developing again. The operation doesn't have any negative long-term effects, according to a review published in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology. Research analysis has shown that the operation has no significant harmful impact on patients' immune systems.
When to Have Tonsils Removed
Individuals of any age can have their tonsils removed. Your physician might recommend the procedure if you regularly develop tonsillitis or if enlarged tonsils are causing other problems, such as snoring. Seek advice from your medical professional if you think you might benefit from a tonsillectomy.
Like other lymph nodes, your lingual tonsils play an important role in defending your body against infections, but repeated bouts of tonsillitis can affect your quality of life. If your physician recommends that you get your tonsils removed, rest assured that the procedure will not hurt your immune system or your health.