Tonsils and Adenoids

Most everyone has heard of the tonsils and adenoids, but not everyone understands their functions. They are part of your lymph system and they not only help the body to trap bacteria, but also develop antibodies to fight off infections.

The tonsils are visible at the back of the throat, whereas the adenoids are located high in the back of the nose and aren’t visible to the naked eye.

Inflammation, enlargement and infection of the tonsils and adenoids are common in early childhood and often cause frequent doctor visits.

Signs and symptoms

Since throat, sinus and ear infections are a common part of growing up, it can be hard for a parent to know when their child’s chronic woes need further evaluation. Here are some signs that could signal a problem:

•    Recurrent infections or pain in the ears and throat

•    Mouth breathing or difficulty breathing through the nose

•    Noisy breathing or snoring

•    Fever

•    Difficulty swallowing or pain with swallowing

•    Restless sleep, daytime fatigue or sleepiness 

The first step in treating enlarged or infected tonsils or adenoids is usually a course of antibiotics. If, after several courses of antibiotics, your child is still experiencing problems, your pediatrician may refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist for further evaluation.

Treatment with surgery

Patients referred to an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose and throat doctor) for chronic tonsil and adenoid infections will usually need to undergo surgery to remove the tonsils and adenoids.

Having your child’s adenoids removed is especially important when repeated infections lead to sinus and ear infections. Badly swollen adenoids can interfere with ear pressure and fluid movement, which can sometimes lead to hearing loss.

The surgical procedures to remove the tonsils and adenoids are called tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, respectively. The procedures are often performed together and are one the most common surgeries performed in childhood.

If your child has also experienced chronic ear infections or fluid in the ear, the doctor may recommend the insertion of ear tubes at the same time.

For children age 3 and older, the surgeries are typically performed as outpatient procedures. For younger children, an overnight stay may be required. To better prepare yourself and your child for the surgery, here’s what you can expect:


It typically takes 10 to 14 days to recover from a tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy. During this time, your child will be prescribed a liquid and soft food diet, pain medication and limited physical activity. General post-operative instructions include:

When to call the doctor

Call your child’s doctor if:

Watch for spitting or vomiting of blood, fast heart rate, listlessness or sweating. If you suspect bleeding, consult your doctor immediately and go to the nearest ER. Bleeding problems are rare, but if they do occur expect them within the first 24 hours or seven to 10 days after surgery.

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