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Adenoids and Adenoidectomies

Adenoids and tonsils are often talked about together. You can see your tonsils in the back of your throat, but where are your adenoids? For that matter, what are your adenoids? Let's find out.

What Are Adenoids?

The adenoids (say: AD-eh-noyds) are a patch of tissue that sit in the back of the nasal cavity. Like tonsils, adenoids help keep your body healthy by trapping harmful bacteria and viruses that you breathe in or swallow.

Adenoids do important work as infection fighters for babies and little kids. But they become less important as a kid gets older and the body develops other ways to fight germs. Adenoids usually shrink after about age 5, and by the teenage years they often practically disappear.

What Are Enlarged Adenoids?

Because adenoids trap germs that enter the body, adenoid tissue sometimes temporarily swells (gets puffier) as it tries to fight off an infection. The swelling sometimes gets better, but sometimes adenoids can get infected.

Swollen or infected adenoids can make it tough to breathe and cause these problems:

  • a very stuffy nose, so a kid can breathe only through his or her mouth (noisy "Darth Vader" breathing)
  • trouble getting a good night's sleep
  • swollen glands in the neck
  • ear problems

Tell a parent if you have any of these problems, so he or she can take you to the doctor.

What Will the Doctor Do?

At the doctor's office, the doctor will ask you how things feel in your ears, nose, and throat, and then take a look at these parts. Your doctor will also feel your neck near your jaw.

To check the size of your adenoids, your doctor might ask you to get an X-ray or look in your nose with a tiny telescope. If it looks like your adenoids are infected, the doctor may give you an antibiotic (a germ-fighting medicine).

When Adenoids Come Out

Sometimes doctors recommend removing the adenoids if medicine doesn't help or if they're making a kid sick a lot. This means going into the hospital and having a surgery called an adenoidectomy (say: ad-eh-noy-DEK-teh-me).

Sometimes, tonsils and adenoids are removed at the same time. This means a kid has a tonsillectomy (say: tahn-suh-LEK-tuh-me) and an adenoidectomy. Both are common surgeries for kids to have.

During these surgeries, kids get special medicine (anesthesia) that makes them fall asleep. The anesthesia makes sure a kid doesn't feel any pain while the operation is being done. Most kids can go home the day of the surgery.

Neither operation requires stitches. The cut areas will heal on their own. It takes a little time, though. After surgery, a kid will have a sore throat and will need to eat soft foods for a while.

Most kids are feeling back to normal in less than a week. And do they miss their adenoids? Not one bit! Your immune system has many other ways to fight germs.

Reviewed by: Patrick C. Barth, MD
Date Reviewed: 03-06-2019

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