Understanding the Adenoid

Also known as nasopharyngeal tonsils or as pharyngeal tonsils, adenoids are located just behind the nasal cavity.  Each adenoid is a mass of lymphoid tissue much like the tonsils found in the throat; however, the adenoids are softer and smoother, lacking the crypts found in other tonsil types.  Unless an adenoid is causing problems, it is something we don’t really tend to think about.  If the adenoids become inflamed though, it’s a whole different story.  Your ear nose throat specialist (ENT) can provide you with information specific to your case or that of a child or other loved one; here, we’ll provide a brief overview with the end goal of providing you with better understanding about the adenoid.

The Purpose of the Adenoid

Both adenoids and tonsils are part of the Waldeyer’s ring, which is a ring of glandular tissue encircling the back portion of the throat.  Like tonsil tissue, adenoid tissue is composed of lyphoids; the primary purpose of the adenoid is to aid the body in developing antibodies during the first few years of life.  After about age three, most people stop using their adenoids altogether.  Sometimes the adenoids will shrink; at other times, they can become inflamed and swell, causing pain and pressure.  A normal sized adenoid is just about the same size as a five cent piece or a two Euro coin; it has a fairly flat profile and is unobtrusive.  An irritated, swollen adenoid can get to be about the size of a ping pong ball – no wonder it can cause such intense pain!

Adenoid Problems

If you suffer from adenoid hypertrophy, or enlarged adenoids, the oversized adenoid can completely block the flow of air through the nasal passages.  Even if the adenoid is not completely blocking airflow, it can be large enough to cause difficulty with breathing through the nose; when an adenoid is swollen, the sufferer must often resort to mouth breathing to get enough oxygen.  Swollen adenoids blocking the nasal airway can also adversely affect the voice; and, they can cause the face to take on an elongated look.  Children with persistently enlarged adenoids often take on a look referred to as “adenoid face” which features a shortened upper lip, prominent incisors, elevated nostrils, and high, arched palates.

Adenoid Surgery

If an adenoid is problematic, then it is very likely that your ear nose throat specialist will recommend adenoid surgery.  Surgical removal of the adenoids is called adenoidectomy; in most cases, this surgery takes place under general anesthesia.  During the surgery, the adenoids are cauterized, lasered, curetted, or otherwise removed.  Most adenoid surgery is conducted on children, as problems with adenoid tissue commonly occur before adulthood.  Surgery will correct problems like snoring, chronic sore throat and ear pain, and chronic infections; in addition, children suffering from otitis media often benefit from adenoid removal.

Often, tonsils and adenoids are removed during the same procedure.  The surgery is simple, and normally takes less than an hour to complete; often, adenoidectomies can be done as outpatient procedures, though some patients do require a short stay in the hospital after surgery.  After adenoid removal,  recovery time is normally a week to ten days.  During this time, spicy foods should be avoided, as they can cause excess pain, and plenty of cold liquids and frozen foods should be consumed to help decrease pain and swelling.

If you or a loved one, particularly a child, have adenoid symptoms, be sure to discuss your options with an ear nose throat specialist.  Your doctor will be able to review options with you and provide you with sound advice about the best course of action to take.