The adenoids are small lumps of soft tissue found at the back of the nose in children. They are part of the immune system and help to fight infections. They are made of the same tissue as lymph nodes (glands).
If the adenoids get infected and swollen, they can cause ear and breathing problems. They can be removed with surgery, but only if they cause severe problems.
What are the adenoids?
They are fleshy lumps of tissue that are out of sight located at the back of the inside of the nose and at the top of the throat.
Together with the tonsils, they trap and destroy germs that enter the child’s mouth and nose.
Everyone is born with adenoids and they are biggest when children are around three to five years old. They start to shrink when children reach around five to eight years of age. They are usually gone altogether by the time children become teenagers.
If the adenoids get infected, becoming swollen and enlarged, they can cause problems such as:
- ear infections — swollen adenoids can block the tubes which drain the middle ear, causing fluid to build up in the ear (glue ear), which can lead to infections and hearing problems
- difficulties breathing from the nose — this can cause children to breathe through their mouth, which becomes dry, leading to bad breath
- ongoing sinusitis
- difficulty sleeping
If enlarged adenoids block children’s breathing through their nose, they may contribute to obstructive sleep apnoea. This means they occasionally stop breathing for a few seconds and snore in between. The brief stops in breathing can occur a few times each night.
Diagnosis of adenoid problems
If your doctor thinks your child may have a problem with their adenoids, they will talk to you and your child and examine them. They may also arrange for:
- x-rays or other scans
- a scope, where a thin, flexible tube with a lighted camera on the end is inserted into the nose or throat to look at the nasal passages and adenoids
- a sleep study if your child's sleep is affected
Treatment of adenoid problems
In most children, enlarged or infected adenoids don’t need treatment. Since the adenoids usually shrink and disappear by the teenage years, any adenoid problems will disappear too.
Swollen, infected adenoids are rarely treated, but your child may get antibiotic treatment for related infections, such as ear or sinus infections.
However, if symptoms are too severe — such as a child having difficulty breathing or sleep apnoea — then an ear, nose and throat specialist may consider removing the adenoids. Your doctor may also suggest removing the adenoids if there are repeated middle-ear infections.
Sometimes, children who are having their tonsils removed will have their adenoids removed at the same time.
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Last reviewed: August 2018