Tonsils & Adenoids
What are the tonsils and adenoids?
The tonsils and adenoids are both made up of
lymphatic tissue. This is the same type of tissue
that is in the lymph nodes in the neck and other
parts of the body. Lymph nodes are present in
the body to help fight infection. Interestingly,
removal of the tonsils does not cause problems
with fighting infections. There are plenty of
other lymphatic tissues to help fight infection.
The tonsils are located in the back of the throat
on the right and left sides and sometimes are
easily visible. If the tonsils are small, often
they are difficult to see. The adenoids are made
up of the same type of tissue and are above the
roof of the mouth, all the way behind the nose.
The tonsils and adenoids are frequently involved
in infections of the throat. Frequently during
these times, the tonsils and adenoids will swell.
What kind of problems occur with the tonsils
Sometimes patients will have recurring infections
of the tonsils. This is often due to a strep infection.
Other people may have difficulty with erratic
breathing at night. They may snore loudly and
even have periodic pauses in the breathing, followed
by a gasp for air. This repeated cycle of ceasing
to breathe and then restarting is often referred
to as sleep apnea. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids,
particularly in children, can cause this syndrome
of obstructive sleep apnea. Either sleep apnea
or recurring tonsillitis may cause the physician
and patient, as well as the parents, to consider
removal of the tonsils and/or adenoids. Other
less common problems may also indicate the need
for tonsillectomy. The decision for this type
of surgery is made on an individual basis for
each patient. It is particularly helpful for the
patient's partner or caregiver to observe their
sleep pattern on several different occasions to
allow the physician to know the pattern of sleep.
Why are recurring throat infections a problem?
There are many different reasons why throat infections
can present a problem for patients. For some adults
or children, simply the amount of time spent with
infection and the number of infections becomes
a major inconvenience and can make a significant
impact on his or her lifestyle. Some patients
will miss significant periods of work or school
with infection and this can certainly be considered
as well in the decision of how to manage the problem.
Occasionally, patients may have a medical disorder
which causes them to have trouble fighting infections.
For this type of patient, recurring throat infections
may be more of a problem than for the average
patient. This might lead the physician and the
family to choose to have the tonsils removed at
an earlier time than with a more typical situation.