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 and adenoids?
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.

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