Nearly every adult today can remember clearly whether they still have their tonsils and adenoids, or whether they were removed during their childhood. There was a time when these two organs were removed at the first sign of an infection, but over the years, this practice thankfully has waned to almost non-existence. Now, unless there is a valid reason for adenoids and tonsils to be removed, most children today will grow to adulthood with them intact. They do have a purpose, and should be left intact for various reasons, and it is helpful for parents to know everything they can about these two important organs, so that their children can enjoy the best of health that they can, with or without them.
The Importance of Adenoids and Tonsils
The tonsils and adenoids, although routinely grouped together when it comes to discussions of childhood illnesses, are actually separate organs that play a major role in your child’s health. Both of them are considered to be like lymph nodes, made up of the same tissues that often swell up when your body is carrying an infection of some kind. They are both very important to your child’s immune system, and they both work hard at fighting off upper respiratory infections that plague most children before they reach their teenage years.
Most children will regularly have enlarged tonsils, which can easily be seen hanging at either side of the back of the throat. Having enlarged tonsils is not necessarily a sign of an infection, and if your child does have this condition without a fever, it does not necessarily mean that they have tonsillitis, and further tests should be done before removing them. The adenoids cannot be seen by the naked eye without help, like an endoscope. They are located higher up, between the nose and the throat, and not easily seen. Both of these organs are capable of collecting food and other debris that is brought into the body through the mouth and nose, and both of them are often where sinus infections and other respiratory problems begin, often because of the detritus they collect, like pollen, spores and food crumbs.
When Problems Arise
The majority of infections during childhood are viral, meaning that they are caused by a virus spread from child to child. The remainder are bacterial, like strep throat and mononucleosis. Most of them will affect the tonsils first, and eventually the adenoids, if left untreated. Antibiotics can cure the majority of these infections, if caught in time, without having either the tonsils or the adenoids removed. Frequent infections, however, may cause one or both to be removed for the health of the child.
Infected adenoids can cause fluid to build up in the Eustachian tubes, leading to an ear infection. Tubes will probably be placed in your child’s ears to help with the drainage, but if the infections persist, then the adenoids may need to be removed. Ear pain, a nasal tone to their voice, and mouth breathing are all symptoms of potential adenoid infection. Tonsils become infected more often than the adenoids, mostly because they are the first line of defense in the throat. If they are appear bright red and swollen, your child’s throat hurts, and if they are having difficulty swallowing, it may mean that they have tonsillitis, and will need them removed.
Sometimes the Troublemakers
As we said, some children will have enlarged tonsils for the majority of their lives. While not life threatening, they can still cause problems within the airway. Chronic conditions, like sleep apnea, have symptoms like snoring, breathing restrictions lasting about 10 seconds, and daytime sleepiness are the first signs of potential sleep apnea in your child. Consult with your doctor to determine if removing the tonsils will alleviate the apnea.
Another condition connected to the tonsils and adenoids that appears even into adulthood are tonsil stones. Food particles that get caught up in the crevices of the tonsils do not always dislodge during subsequent swallowing, and can grow hard over time. Bad halitosis is the first sign of this, and gargling with warm water and salt after a meal may help. If not, the tonsils will have to go.