Many parents immediately think of cancer when they notice that only one tonsil is enlarged in their child.
But there is another condition that the parent should immediately consider.
“Enlarged tonsils are very common in children,” says Joel Gator Warsh, MD, of Integrative Pediatrics and Medicine, Studio City, CA, and part of the pediatric staff of Cedars-Sinai Hospital.
“They are generally not concerning for cancer and usually swell to fight infection. Tonsils are actually lymph tissue and get bigger to help you manage invaders.”
And it just so happens that during this process, one tonsil may be bigger than the other.
After all, the human body, including that of children, is not symmetrical.
“Young children almost always seem to have an upper respiratory infection, and it is not uncommon to have three to five viruses in one year,” continues Dr. Warsh.
“Because of all of these infections, swollen tonsils in the toddler years are all too common. They almost always shrink as the child gets older.
“If one tonsil is much larger than the other and is progressively getting bigger (especially if the growth is very sudden), I would consider a retro-pharyngeal abscess or mass pushing on the tonsil.”
The odds of some mass being malignant in a child or toddler are extremely small.
“If the swelling is affecting breathing or swallowing, you should have that evaluated immediately.
“Mononucleosis can also present with large tonsils. The swelling is usually bilateral, and you may also have a sore throat and swollen glands in your neck or the rest of your body as well.
One Tonsil Larger and Cancer
Dr. Warsh explains, “Lymphoma/leukemia can present with swollen glands, but the swelling is usually in many glands in your body. Single tonsil enlargement would be a very rare presentation of this and would not be my first thought.”