Tonsils and Adenoids
Insight Into Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy
Tonsils and adenoids are masses of tissue that are similar to the lymph nodes or "glands" found in the neck, groin, and armpits. Tonsils are the two masses on the back of the throat. Adenoids are high in the throat behind the nose and the roof of the mouth (soft palate) and are not visible through the mouth without special instruments.
Tonsils and adenoids are near the entrance to the breathing passages where they can catch incoming germs, which cause infections. They "sample" bacteria and viruses and can become infected themselves. Scientists believe they work as part of the body's immune system by filtering germs that attempt to invade the body, and that they help to develop antibodies to germs.
This happens primarily during the first few years of life, becoming less important as we get older. Children who must have their tonsils and adenoids removed suffer no loss in their resistance.
What Affects Tonsils And Adenoids?
The most common problems affecting the tonsils and adenoids are recurrent infections (throat or ear) and significant enlargement or obstruction that causes breathing and swallowing problems.
Abscesses around the tonsils, chronic tonsillitis, and infections of small pockets within the tonsils that produce foul-smelling, cheese-like formations can also affect the tonsils and adenoids, making them sore and swollen. Tumors are rare, but can grow on the tonsils.
When Should I See My Doctor?
You should see your doctor when you or your child suffer the common symptoms of infected or enlarged tonsils or adenoids.
The primary methods used to check tonsils and adenoids are:
* Medical history
* Physical examination
* Throat cultures/Strep tests
* Blood tests
What Should I Expect At the Exam?
Your physician will ask about problems of the ear, nose, and throat and examine the head and neck. He or she will use a small mirror or a flexible lighted instrument to see these areas.
Cultures/strep tests are important in diagnosing certain infections in the throat, especially "strep" throat.
How Are Tonsil And Adenoid Diseases Treated?
Bacterial infections of the tonsils, especially those caused by streptococcus, are first treated with antibiotics. Sometimes, removal of the tonsils and/or adenoids may be recommended. The two primary reasons for tonsil and/or adenoid removal are (1) recurrent infection despite antibiotic therapy and (2) difficulty breathing due to enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids.
Such obstruction to breathing causes snoring and disturbed sleep that leads to daytime sleepiness in adults and behavioral problems in children. Some orthodontists believe chronic mouth breathing from large tonsils and adenoids causes malformations of the face and improper alignment of the teeth.
Chronic infection can affect other areas such as the Eustachian Tube – the passage between the back of the nose and the inside of the ear. This can lead to frequent ear infections and potential hearing loss.
Recent studies indicate adenoidectomy may be a beneficial treatment for some children with chronic earaches accompanied by fluid in the middle ear (otitis media with effusion).
In adults, the possibility of cancer or a tumor may be another reason for removing the tonsils and adenoids.
Tonsillitis And Its Symptoms
Tonsillitis is an infection in one or both tonsils. One sign is swelling of the tonsils. Other signs or symptoms are:
* Redder than normal tonsils
* A white or yellow coating on the tonsils
* A slight voice change due to swelling
* Sore throat
* Uncomfortable or painful swallowing
* Swollen lymph nodes (glands) in the neck
* Bad breath
Enlarged Adenoids And Their Symptoms
If you or your child's adenoids are enlarged, it may be hard to breathe through the nose.
Other signs of constant enlargement are:
* Breathing through the mouth instead of the nose most of the time
* Nose sounds "blocked" when the person speaks
* Noisy breathing during the day
* Recurrent ear infections
* Snoring at night
* Breathing stops for a few seconds at night during snoring or loud breathing (sleep apnea)