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Tonsil and Adenoid Infections


Tonsils and adenoids are masses of lymphoid tissue in the throat and nose. Tonsils are the two lumps located on the sides of the back of the throat and are visible through the mouth, while adenoids are located high in the throat at the back of the nose, above the soft palate. Adenoids cannot be seen without special instruments. They are both part of the immune system, and like all lymph tissues that form the immune system, they trap infectious agents like viruses and bacteria and produce antibodies to fight them better in the future.

The tonsils fight infected substances entering through the mouth, while the adenoids fight against substances inhaled through the nose. Typically, the tonsils and adenoids enlarge during early childhood, when infections of the nose and throat are most common. Both reach their largest size (relative to the diameter of the throat and airways) in young children.

Problems occur when, while protecting against germs and infection, the tonsils and adenoids are themselves infected. Recurring infections may become serious when enlargement of the tonsils and/or adenoids cause breathing and swallowing problems.

Bacterial infections of the tonsils and adenoids, especially those caused by streptococcus (strep throat), initially receive antibiotic treatment. However, removal of the tonsils and/or adenoids,–referred to respectively as tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy— is sometimes recommended. Your physician may recommend removal if:

    • There are recurring infections despite adequate antibiotic treatment
    • Enlargement of the tonsils and/or adenoids causes difficulty breathing and/or swallowing.

Some recent studies also point to an adenoidectomy as an effective treatment for some children with chronic earaches and fluid in the middle ear. Removal of the tonsils and/or adenoids has no major effect on disease resistance or immune system function.