What Is Tonsillar Hypertrophy?

Medically Reviewed by Robert Brennan on April 28, 2023
3 min read

‌Tonsillar hypertrophy is when your or your child’s tonsils become swollen. Enlarged tonsils are a common condition, more likely to happen in children. Surgery to remove the tonsils might be required depending on how large they become. This is called a tonsillectomy

Tonsils are glands on each side of your throat in the back. They are important for keeping bacteria out of your throat and esophagus. Their main purpose is to protect you from bacterial and viral infections. If they’re swollen, they can be harmful to your health. 

‌Tonsils are important organs in your body. They protect your body from unknown bacteria and viruses. They play an important part in helping your immune response stay consistent. They work on their own and are made of mucosal-associated lymphoid tissue.

When tonsils block bacteria and viruses, they also use them to make antibodies. Tonsils work with adenoids to keep you healthy. Your adenoids are further back and higher than your tonsils. They rest where your nasal passage connects to your throat. Typically, when enlarged tonsils are removed, the adenoids are taken out too. 

‌When your tonsils become enlarged, you have tonsillar hypertrophy. This can cause infection and inflammation in your body. Tonsillar hypertrophy can be simple, which means you only have enlarged tonsils, or it can be hypertrophy with chronic inflammation. Your treatment plan and health effects will depend on how tonsillar hypertrophy affects your body. 

Regardless, tonsillar hypertrophy can have harmful effects on your health. If left untreated, other conditions can occur. These include the following: ‌

  • Recurring ear infections and hearing loss
  • Chronic sinus infections
  • Obstructive sleep apnea can happen in children, causing them to snore or stop breathing for periods when asleep, which could impact their oxygen levels. 
  • Weight loss or no weight gain can happen when the pain in your tonsils makes it too hard to eat. 

‌‌When your enlarged tonsils begin to make your daily tasks difficult, you may need medical treatment. 

‌Tonsillar hypertrophy is typically characterized by swollen, enlarged tonsils. However, there are other symptoms of this condition. Knowing these signs can help you understand whether you or your child has this condition. Symptoms include the following: ‌

‌In small children, tonsillar hypertrophy may be harder to identify. However, its symptoms show up more often when your child is asleep. Here are some signs to look for: ‌

  • Mouth breathing
  • Noisy breathing
  • Loud snoring
  • Inability to sleep well
  • Night terrors
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Bedwetting after potty training
  • Change in behavior

‌‌Other symptoms in children with enlarged tonsils and adenoid problems include the following: ‌

  • Sore throat
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Inner ear infection
  • Bright red tonsils
  • Bad breath
  • White or yellow film on tonsils
  • Fever in some cases with infection

‌There’s no exact cause of tonsillar hypertrophy. However, some doctors believe that secondhand smoke from cigarettes and air pollution could cause enlarged tonsils. 

Some potential causes of tonsillar hypertrophy include viruses like adenovirus, influenza virus, and herpes simplex virus. Another cause could be bacterial infections including Neisseriagonorrhoeae, mycoplasma, and Haemophilus influenzae Type B. 

Enlarged tonsils can also be caused by fungal or parasitic infections. However, they are less common causes. 

‌Treatment for tonsillar hypertrophy is a common, easy procedure. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to get rid of bacterial infection, which may shrink your swollen tonsils. However, this will depend on the severity of the enlarged tonsils. If they are troublesome and restrict you or your child’s daily activities like eating, sleeping, and even breathing, they may need to be removed. 

If your doctor suggests removing your tonsils, a tonsillectomy will be scheduled to get rid of them altogether. They may remove your adenoids as well. This depends on the type of tonsillar hypertrophy you have and whether the adenoids are affecting your quality of life. 

Any child over the age of 4 years can get a tonsillectomy. It is a simple surgery that takes very little time. It’s a common procedure that has been done on many children and adults. The recovery period can take about 1 to 2 weeks. The first week will involve throat pain. Your doctor will allow you to eat certain foods as your throat heals over the 2 weeks.