Adenoids are a mass of soft tissue located at the back of the throat, right above the tonsils. Both adenoids and tonsils are part of the immune system, which helps to prevent and fight infection in your body.
Tonsils are easily visible, unlike the adenoids which aren’t directly visible. The adenoids can cause problems if they become enlarged. Fortunately, they’re not an essential part of the immune system, and they can generally be treated by removing them.
When the tonsils become infected, the condition is called tonsillitis. Tonsillitis can be caused by a virus, such as the common cold, or by a bacterial infection, such as strep throat. Adenoids usually become enlarged when infected, but return to their normal size when the infection subsides. However, in some instances, the adenoids remain enlarged even after the infection is gone.
If your child has been having frequent tonsil infections, the doctor might remove the tonsils as well. The tonsils and adenoids are often removed at the same time. This is because repeated infections can lead to sinus and ear infections. Badly swollen adenoids can also lead to infections or middle ear fluid, which can temporarily cause hearing loss.
What Are the Symptoms of Adenotonsillitis?
Symptoms of tonsillitis may include:
- Swelling of the tonsils
- Redder than normal tonsils
- A white or yellow coating on the tonsils
- A slight change in the voice due to swelling
- A sore throat sometimes accompanied by ear pain
- Uncomfortable or painful swallowing
- Swollen lymph nodes (glands) in the neck
- Bad breath
If your child’s tonsils or adenoids are enlarged, it may be hard to breathe through the nose or cause difficulty while sleeping.
Other signs of adenoid and/or tonsil enlargement include:
Breathing through the mouth instead of the nose most of the time
Nose sounds “blocked” when the person speaks
- A chronic runny nose
- Noisy breathing during the day
- Recurrent ear infections
- Snoring at night
Restlessness during sleep, or pauses in breathing for a few seconds at night (this may indicate sleep apnea or other sleeping disorder)
Along with these symptoms, your child may suffer from facial deformity known as an adenoid face. The facial features include:
- Open mouth and mouth breathing
- Pinched nostrils
- Crowded teeth and hyperplasia of gums
- Loss of nasolabial fold
- Underslung mandible
- High arched V-shaped palate
- Short upper lips
- Hypoplasia of maxilla
- Vacant expression
- Round shoulders
- Voice changes- nasal and lifeless
What are treatment options?
Treatment depends on how severe the condition is. If your child’s enlarged adenoids aren’t infected, the doctor may not recommend surgery. Instead, the doctor may choose to simply wait and see if the adenoids shrink on their own as your child gets older.
In other cases, your doctor may recommend medication, such as a nasal steroid, to shrink enlarged adenoids. However, it’s common for enlarged adenoids to be removed if they continue to cause problems despite treatment with medications. This surgery is called an adenoidectomy.