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Our tonsils and adenoids are part of our early immune system. (Read about "The Immune System") They are located high in the throat and their jobs are to catch germs. (Read about "Microorganisms") The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAOHNS) says that it's believed they act as an early warning system of sorts, filtering germs on the way in and helping to develop antibodies. They seem to do this mostly early in our lives. But they aren't crucial because if you have them removed you are still able to develop resistance to disease. As we grow older, the adenoids and the tonsils both get smaller.
The tonsils are in the back of your throat, one on each side. You can usually see them by shining a flashlight into the mouth and getting the person to say ahhh. They should be oval in shape and pink. That thing hanging down in the middle is called the uvula. It's not the tonsils. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says there is no so-called "normal" size. Some children will have larger tonsils than others and some smaller.
The adenoids can't be seen without special instruments. AAP says that what is commonly referred to as adenoids is actually just one mass of tissue located in the very upper part of the throat above the uvula and behind the nose.
Both the tonsils and the adenoids can get infected. When they do, they swell and get inflamed. That can cause other problems such as ear infections, such as otitis media. (Read about "Otitis Media") AAOHNS says that most bacterial infections are first treated with antibiotics. (Read about "Antibiotics") Years ago having one's tonsils out was almost a right of passage. That is no longer the case, according to AAP, but surgery is still an option for children who suffer from cases of swollen or infected tonsils or adenoids.
The symptoms of infected tonsils or tonsillitis, according to both AAP and AAOHNS are:
There may also be bad breath.
The symptoms of infected adenoids, also from AAP and AAOHNS, include:
The child can also suffer from sleep apnea, which is when breathing stops for a short time while the child is asleep. (Read about "Sleep") It is important to remember that some of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions such as strep throat and mononucleosis. (Read about "Sore Throat & Strep Throat" "Mononucleosis")
Your doctor is the best one to be able to diagnose what may be causing the symptoms if your child has them. If tonsillitis is caused by a viral infection, treatment is often just getting bed rest and drinking plenty of fluids. If tonsillitis is caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics may be prescribed. It is important that you take all the medication, as it has been prescribed. (Read about "Medicine Safety") Surgery or tonsillectomy is not commonly done in adults, but may be recommended for a child if the child has had multiple cases of tonsillitis in a year. Surgery may also be an option if an abscess develops or the tonsils affect breathing ability. You should discuss all treatment options with your doctor.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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