As a part of our immune system, tonsils and adenoids serve to help fight off bacteria and viruses that enter the body through the nose and mouth. They are part of the first line of defense and the majority of the time do a good job at what they do. In children, tonsils and adenoids are larger than they are in adults because they have a more active role in the growing years. However, when they aren’t functioning as planned, they can cause a lot of problems and sometimes people are better off without them.
Tonsils and adenoids are found in the back of our throats and when they are fighting infections, they typically get large, red and sore. If they are frequently fighting off infections, like strep throat, they can get overwhelmed and bacteria can even hang out in the deep crevices of the tissue, causing chronic tonsillitis, ear infections and even abscesses that are hard to get rid of. Overworked, these tonsils and adenoids can also stay enlarged and cause trouble with breathing, swallowing and sleeping. Many kids who snore at night have abnormally enlarged (hypertrophied) tonsils and/or adenoids. This can then cause disturbances in their sleep quality and thus their performance in school and overall health.
If the tonsils and/or adenoids seem to be causing all the above-mentioned problems, an ear, nose and throat specialist (a.k.a. otolaryngologist) may determine that it’s best to remove them. The surgeries to remove the tonsils and adenoids are called tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy. They are frequently done together but can easily be done separately depending on what needs to be done. Thankfully the other parts of the immune system take over when the tonsils and adenoids are removed so there is no compromise to overall health. In general, when problematic tonsils and adenoids are removed, there are less infections and breathing becomes much easier, especially at night.
The tonsils and adenoids are richly supplied with blood and therefore all blood thinning medications must be avoided for up to two weeks before the surgery. These procedures are typically outpatient but because they are still fairly invasive, they are done under general anesthesia and staying overnight is not uncommon. During the surgeries, diseased or hypertrophied tissue is removed, and areas of bleeding are cauterized (heated to stop the bleeding).
Recovery from tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy can run from around 10 days to 2 weeks for most individuals. Children actually seem to recover quicker from these procedures than adults do for some reason. Most experience a very sore throat after surgery and swallowing will be painful. Pain medication and cool liquids or foods will help soothe and reduce inflammation. It is very important to follow all post-procedure instructions and keep follow up appointments to insure proper healing. Once healed many individuals experience much less throat infections, ear infections and may even sleep and breathe better with their tonsils and adenoids are gone.