Adenoids - what are they?

Adenoid tissue is lymphoid tissue that, in the early years (toddlers), forms an essential part of your immunity as a first-line of exposure to airborne infections and allergens. This early exposure allows you to form your own antibodies to a great number of potential disease-causing substances. However, the adenoids are only a small part of your immune system. Other aspects include the tonsils, lymph glands, antibodies that circulate in your blood, enzymes in your tears and saliva, and your spleen.

Why do your adenoids cause problems?

The adenoids sit at the back of your nose, in an area called the nasopharynx. The nasopharynx in adults is very small and in children, even smaller. When you breathe in through your nose, air passes through the nasopharynx on its way to your lungs. Therefore, if your adenoids become enlarged, it may become extremely difficult to breathe through your nose. Your speech may also become nasal in its quality. In children, enlarged adenoids may cause a nasal discharge and hearing loss.

Who is affected?

Adenoids are usually at their largest between the ages of 3 and 5 years, when the immune system is developing rapidly. After this, the adenoids should reduce in size. Sometimes however, the adenoids do not shrink and may cause blockage in older children or very rarely, in adults too.

What is the treatment for enlarged adenoids?

Quite often, especially in young children, your ENT surgeon will recommend waiting to see if the adenoid tissue shrinks away of its own accord. If the adenoids are infected or causing a nasal discharge, your specialist may prescribe a course of antibiotics. If the adenoids continue to cause problems, your specialist may suggest an adenoidectomy, which is a surgical procedure to remove the adenoid tissue. This is now often performed as a daycase procedure. Your specialist will discuss the most appropriate technique for removing your adenoids. This will depend on your age, the size of the adenoids, the underlying cause for their enlargement and, their position in the nasopharynx.

Are there any complications of adenoid surgery?

Adenoid surgery is still a very common ENT operation in the UK. The surgery is largely very safe. Very rarely, however, you may experience bleeding from the nasopharynx after surgery. Your specialist will make every effort to stop the bleeding completely, which may include returning you to the operating theatre. If however, the bleeding cannot be stopped, which is extremely rare, your specialist will leave a dressing in the nasopharynx for a period of time. In young children, this may necessitate a period of sedation, since the dressing can be uncomfortable. There are other by-products of adenoidectomy, such as a change in the quality of your voice and nasal regurgitation, which your specialist will discuss with you at the time of your out-patient consultation.

What should you do next?

If you think your or your child's adenoids are enlarged, you should seek the advice of your family doctor or, contact us directly (0161 291 0763) for an appointment. Your specialist will discuss your symptoms at an out-patient consultation, may examine your nasopharynx with a very fine camera (called an endoscope), and may organise a hearing test if hearing is affected. Your specialist will then discuss a course of treatment that is tailored specifically to your needs.