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Adenoids and adenoidectomy


The adenoids are small lumps of tissue located above the tonsils at the back of the throat. Along with tonsils, they help the body trap harmful germs that pass through the nose and mouth. They are part of the immune system and produce antibodies to help a child's body fight infections.

Unlike tonsils, which you can easily see, adenoids are not visible and a doctor has to use a small mirror or special instrument with a light to see them.

Adenoids become less important as we age because the body becomes able to fight infection in other ways. Consequently, they are only present in children and reach their maximum size at 3 to 5 years old. They then start to shrink and are barely visible by the teenage years and disappear completely in adulthood.


The adenoids can become swollen or enlarged as a result of:

  • Allergies
  • Infection (bacterial or viral)
  • Problems at birth - some children may be born with enlarged adenoids.


Despite the fact adenoids help keep germs out, sometimes they are overwhelmed by an infection and become inflamed and sore. This can make breathing difficult and lead to recurring respiratory infections. It most commonly affects young children.

In adenoiditis not only are the adenoids swollen but patients may also have a sore throat, stuffy nose, swollen neck glands and ear problems.

Adenoiditis due to bacterial infection may be treated with antibiotics.

Adenoiditis may also occur as a consequence of an allergy.


If infections are frequent, or antibiotics are not helping enough, surgery may be necessary to remove the adenoids.

An adenoidectomy is an operation to remove adenoids that may be enlarged or causing problems such as breathing difficulties, snoring or sleep apnoea. It is often carried out alongside removal of the tonsils (a tonsillectomy). It has very few risks and the body's immune system is not affected adversely.

The adenoidectomy is carried out by an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist and takes around half an hour under general anaesthetic. The child can usually leave hospital the same day and should be able to drink 2 to 3 hours after the operation, and eat several hours after that.
There may be some temporary discomfort for a few weeks afterwards, including sore throat, earache or blocked nose.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on March 10, 2017

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