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Adenoids in Nutshell

What are adenoids?

Adenoids are a patch of tissue belonging to the immune system that fights against infection and protects children from getting sick. Adenoids are located behind the nose, high in the throat, above the roof of the mouth (soft palate) and therefore cannot be seen without special instruments.

Adenoids grow from birth and reach their largest size when the child is around three to five years old. The adenoids start shrinking by the age of seven to eight years. In the late teens, they are barely visible and by adulthood, they would have disappeared completely. In adults, the adenoids are not a critical part of the immune system.

Enlarged adenoids is a condition in which this tissue gets swollen causing nasal obstruction and problems in breathing, swallowing and sleep.

Causes and risk factors

Adenoids can become swollen due to many reasons including:

  • Infection: Adenoiditis is an infection of the adenoids by bacteria or virus causing enlargement of the adenoids.
  • Allergies: Sometimes the adenoids get enlarged because of allergic reactions to some substances.

Symptoms and signs


Adenoid enlargement causes a blockage at the backside of the nose, so the child often breathes through the mouth. Mouth breathing is more common in the night, but can be present during the day also.

Enlarged adenoids can cause the following additional symptoms:

  • Because of breathing through the mouth – Dry mouth, cracked lips, bad breath, runny nose
  • Sleep issues – Restlessness during sleep, snoring, breath holding during sleep (sleep apnoea)
  • Frequent ear infections – Adenoids can increase the risk of recurrent ear infections


The adenoids cannot be seen directly by looking into the mouth or nostrils. Hence, the doctor uses a special mirror inserted in the mouth or by inserting a flexible tube (endoscope) through the nose.


The ENT doctor may use a special mirror inserted into the mouth or a flexible tube (endoscope) inserted through the nose to see the adenoids.

In addition, the doctor may perform X-ray of the throat in some cases and sleep study may be done to detect abnormalities in sleep.

Treatment and prevention

Many kids with enlarged adenoids may not have any or few symptoms and not require any treatment. The adenoids will shrink as the child grows older. When an infection develops, the doctor may treat it using antibiotics.

If the symptoms are severe or persisting, the doctor may perform surgery for removal of adenoids (adenoidectomy). Adenoidectomy is a quick surgery which takes about 30 minutes and in most cases the child can go back home on the same day.

Read more

 Next Steps

If your child is having difficulty in breathing through the nose or having other symptoms of enlarged adenoids, contact your doctor.

Consult a top Ear-Nose-Throat (ENT) Specialist

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  • Medline Plus. Medical Encyclopedia – Enlarged adenoids. Accessed at https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001649.htm.
  • NHS choices. Adenoids and adenoidectomy. Accessed at http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Adenoids-and-adenoidectomy/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  • Health direct Australia. Adenoids. Accessed at http://www.healthdirect.gov.au/adenoids.

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