Adenoids and tonsils are commonly referred to in one breath, and rightfully so. Both tonsils and adenoids are part of the Waldeyer's ring in the human body, a ring of glandular tissue that encircles the back of the throat. Adenoids and tonsils are composed of lymphoid tissue that is thought to develop antibodies during the first year of life. While tonsils are easily seen by looking into the mouth, the placement of these structures makes viewing them more difficult. They are located high in the throat, just behind the nose and roof of the mouth (soft palate).
Despite the common myth these structures act as a sponge to trap bacteria, the most recent research dispels that belief. Doctors now believe that neither the adenoids nor the tonsils serve any purpose after a person's first year of development, and because of this, they can be removed with no adverse affect. Studies show that people who have had their tonsils and adenoids removed have no higher incidence of infection throughout their lives than those with these structures intact.
The decision to surgically remove the adenoids, a procedure called an adenoidectomy, is usually made due to chronic infection that causes swelling. When the structures are inflamed and enlarged, they may create a wide range of physical problems. Some of the conditions caused by swelling include: bad breath, difficulty breathing and hearing, snoring, a "stuffy-sounding" voice, ear infections, recurring sinus infections and even loss of smell. As a person ages, the adenoids normally shrink. However, for those who continue to have swollen adenoids because they were not removed during childhood, the health problems during adulthood can include sleep apnea, pulmonary hypertension and sometimes, right-sided heart failure.
It is the norm to automatically perform an adenoidectomy if a tonsillectomy is scheduled, but tonsils are not always removed during this procedure. The decision to perform both surgeries at once is predicated upon whether the patient has also experienced chronic tonsillitis and whether the tonsils themselves are enlarged. While the surgery is a fairly routine procedure, it requires general anesthesia, takes about 15 minutes, and normally calls for an overnight stay in the hospital. When both tonsils and adenoids are removed at once, the procedure is a little more complicated and may entail a hospital stay of a couple of days.
After the surgery, patients are treated with a series of antibiotics, and pain relievers as needed. The prognosis for recovery from an adenoidectomy, or the combination of an adenoidectomy and tonsillectomy, is excellent and most patients are fully recovered within several days to a week.