Tonsils are the two masses on the back of your throat. Adenoids are high in the throat behind the nose and the roof of the mouth and aren’t visible through the mouth without special instruments. Both are near the entrance to the breathing passages where they can catch incoming germs and infections. Scientists believe they work as part of the body’s immune system by filtering germs that attempt to invade the body, while also helping to develop antibodies to germs.
This process happens primarily during the first few years of life and becomes less important as we get older. Children who must have their tonsils and adenoids removed suffer no loss in their resistance.
Problems with the tonsils and adenoids that can occur are:
- Recurrent Infections (throat or ear)
- Significant Enlargement or Obstruction Causing Breathing & Swallowing Problems
- Abscesses Around the Tonsils
- Chronic Tonsillitis
- Infections Producing Foul-Smelling, Cheese-Like Formations (making them sore/swollen)
These are the signs of an infection in one or both tonsils:
- Swelling of the Tonsils
- Redder than Normal Tonsils
- White or Yellow Coating on the Tonsils
- Slight Voice Change Due to Swelling
- Sore Throat
- Uncomfortable or Painful Swallowing
- Swollen Lymph Nodes (glands) in the Neck
- Bad Breath
- Enlarged Adenoids
- Hard to Breathe through the Nose
- Breathing through the Mouth Instead of the Nose Most of the Time
- Nose Sounds “Blocked” when Speaking
- Noisy Breathing During the Day
- Recurrent Ear Infections
- Snoring at Night
- Sleep Apnea (breathing stops for a few seconds at night during snoring or loud breathing)
Antibiotics are the first steps in treating bacterial infections of the tonsils, especially streptococcus (strep throat). Sometimes removal of the tonsils and/or adenoids may be recommended, and this is often for two reasons: (1) recurrent infection despite antibiotic therapy; and (2) difficulty breathing due to enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids. In adults, the possibility of cancer or tumor may be another reason for removing the tonsils and adenoids.
When to See Your Doctor
If you have any of the above symptoms, see your doctor. Your exam may include any or all of the following:
- Medical History
- Physical Examination
- Throat Cultures/Strep Tests
- Blood Tests
Your doctor will use a small mirror or flexible lighted instrument to check your ears, nose and throat – as well as your head and neck area.