Everyone gets a sore throat from time to time, and sometimes the tonsils in your mouth can become infected. However, tonsils are not the only vulnerable glands in your mouth. Adenoids, located higher up in the mouth -- behind the nose and roof of the mouth -- can also get infected. Enlarged and inflamed adenoids -- called adenoiditis -- can make breathing difficult and lead to recurring respiratory infections.
What Are Adenoids?
Adenoids are a mass of tissue that, along with your tonsils, help keep you healthy by trapping harmful germs that pass through the nose or mouth. Your adenoids also produce antibodies to help your body fight infections. Unlike tonsils, which can be easily seen by opening your mouth, you cannot see the adenoids. A doctor has to use a small mirror or special instrument with a light to see the adenoids. Sometimes X-rays may be taken to see them more clearly.
While adenoids play an important role in keeping a person healthy, as you get older, adenoids become less important, because your body is able to fight infection in other ways. In fact, adenoids often get smaller around age 5 or 6 and virtually disappear by the teen years.
What Is Adenoiditis?
Even though adenoids help filter out germs from your body, sometimes they can get overwhelmed by bacteria and become infected. When this happens they also get inflamed and swollen. This condition is called adenoiditis. It is most commonly seen in children, but sometimes affect adults.
What Are the Symptoms of Adenoiditis?
Symptoms of adenoiditis can vary depending on what is causing the infection, but may include:
When the nose is stuffy, breathing through it can be a challenge. Other symptoms of adenoiditis related to nasal congestion include:
- breathing through the mouth
- speaking with a nasal sound, as if you are speaking with a pinched nose
- difficulty sleeping
- snoring or sleep apnea (a condition where you stop breathing for a short amount of time during sleep)
How Is Adenoiditis Treated?
Adenoiditis is treated with antibiotics. However, if your child has frequent infections, including ear and sinus infections, or antibiotics do not help, or if your child has ongoing breathing problems, their doctor may refer them to a specialist (an otolaryngologist or ear, nose and throat doctor) who can discuss surgery to remove the adenoids. This procedure is called an adenoidectomy.
The specialist may also recommend the tonsils be removed at the same time since adenoiditis and tonsillitis often go hand in hand. Surgery to remove the tonsils is called a tonsillectomy, the most common childhood surgery.
Together, you and your child's doctor can discuss the pros and cons of surgery and determine if it is necessary.
What Happens During an Adenoidectomy?
An adenoidectomy is performed by a doctor who specializes in ear, nose, and throat surgery. It occurs in a hospital or outpatient surgical center under general anesthesia, meaning your child is put to sleep. The tonsils and/or adenoids can be removed through the mouth so no additional incisions are made except for where the tissues are removed.
Most patients can go home following the procedure; but, you should expect to be in the surgical center for around four or five hours after the surgery so that your child can be carefully monitored. Your doctor can give you more specific instructions as to what to expect based on your child's particular health needs.
Recovery From Adenoidectomy
After surgery, your child may feel nauseous until the anesthesia completely wears off. In the week following the adenoidectomy, your child may experience the following:
- Sore throat: Your child's throat may be sore for seven to ten days following the procedure and eating can be uncomfortable.
- Fever: Your child may have a low fever several days after the surgery. If the fever gets higher than 102 F, call the doctor. Seek medical attention if fever is accompanied by other symptoms such as lethargy, nausea, vomiting, decreased urine output, headache, or stiff neck.
- Mouth breathing: Mouth breathing and snoring may occur following the surgery, due to swelling in the throat. Breathing should return to normal once swelling goes down, usually 10 to 14 days after surgery. Seek medical attention if there is difficulty breathing.
- Pain: Some throat and ear pain is normal for a few weeks following surgery. The doctor should prescribe medicine to help control pain.
- Scabs in the mouth: Thick, white scabs will develop where the tonsils and/or adenoids were removed. This is normal and most scabs fall off in small pieces within 10 days after surgery. Do not let your child pick at the scabs. These scabs may also cause bad breath.
Here are some tips to ease your child's recovery following adenoidectomy:
- Feed your child soft foods, such as scrambled eggs, Jell-O, soup, and popsicles. Lukewarm or slightly chilled foods are best.
- Make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Have your child rest as much as possible for the first few days following surgery. Your child should be able to return to school once they can eat regular foods again, is no longer on pain medication, and is able to sleep soundly through the night.
Adenoidectomy: Warning Sign
If you notice bright red blood coming from your child's mouth or nose, call the doctor right away or take your child to the emergency room. This may indicate the scabs have come off too soon. Small spots of blood in the nose or in the saliva may be expected. Also, if breathing becomes so difficult that your child is wheezing, making loud noises while breathing, or drooling, seek immediate medical care. This may be a sign of excessive swelling in the surgical area and should be looked at immediately.
Surgery should never be taken lightly. Make sure you have all your questions answered before making a decision and, if you have any doubts, seek a second opinion from another qualified doctor.