Tonsils and adenoids

Tonsils and adenoids

Tonsils are two round lumps located at the back of the throat. Tonsils can be seen by opening the mouth wide and sticking the tongue out. Adenoids are glands located above the roof of the mouth, behind the nose and cannot be easily seen.

Tonsils and adenoids are part of everyone’s immune system and serve an important purpose. Both help to trap bacteria and viruses that enter through our mouth and throat. They contain antibody producing immune cells that kill the bacteria and viruses before they enter our body. Tonsils and adenoids often become enlarged when they are warding off pathogens. As they trap the germs they can also get infected causing swelling, soreness and pain. Swallowing may hurt in such a situation.

Tonsillitis is the infection of the tonsils. Though it is common in children, but it can infect people of all ages. An ENT examination of the throat and tonsils is done. If tonsillitis is diagnosed, then a throat culture is done to determine if the infection is viral or bacterial.

Adenoids can become infected and can block a child’s airway. Children can have breathing problems, ear infections, and at times chronic infections can lead to snoring, sleep apnea, fluid in the ear. A physical exam by the ENT and an X-ray would determine the diagnosis and mode of treatment.

Removal of tonsils (tonsillectomy) and/or adenoids (adenoidectomy) is recommended if infections become chronic and persistent and cause blockages that cause snoring or sleep apnea. Surgery is a common procedure and one can expect a full recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions

Tonsils and adenoids grow to their largest size between the ages of 2 to 8. Some may be naturally born with large adenoids and tonsils. Repeated throat infections, allergies can cause them to become enlarge. Severe gastroesophageal reflux of stomach contents up to the back of the nose may also worsen the swelling.  Having said this even small tonsils and adenoids can cause problems when they become the focus of infection.

Unresolved or enlarged tonsils and adenoids can cause blockage in the nose and mouth breathing airway. The airway obstruction can cause snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. Long term airway blockage in a growing child can result in poor lower jaw growth with giving a dental overbite and more dental caries. They can also affect swallowing. Frequent coughs and colds can result in poor concentration, irritability, poor weight gain.

Parents and patients often worry about impairing their immunity with adenoid and tonsil removal. They can be reassured as long-term research has shown that adenoidectomy and tonsillectomy surgery does not decrease one’s immunity nor does it increase the risk of infections or cancers.