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What are "tonsils" and "adenoids"?

Tonsils And Adenoids

Jason Hamilton (Facial Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon) gives expert video advice on: What are the treatments for tonsil and adenoid diseases?; Is it safe to have my tonsils or adenoids removed? and more...

What are "tonsils" and "adenoids"?

Tonsils are lymph nodes that are in the back of your throat. They are large swellings that help to sample bacteria, foreign bodies, food, viruses, that come and are swallowed through the mouth. The tonsils have lymphocytes in it that help to fight infection. It also samples things that are passed through the oral cavity and sends it to the rest of the body to let your body know what you're ingesting. If you ingest anything bad, like strep bacteria, it sends out antibodies which cause inflammation and fight off that infection. The adenoids are lymph nodes as well, but they're located in the back of the nose, you can't see them through your mouth, and they're similar to the tonsils in that they sample things that are breathed in through the nose, and they let your body know if there's any, you know, pathogens or viruses, bacteria, that you've breathed in and that needs to be fought.

What are the most common problems that affect tonsils and adenoids, and do I need to have them treated by a doctor?

The most common problem that affects tonsils is a bacterial infection. You do need to see a physician to be treated with antibiotics for bacterial infection. Less commonly, viral infections will involve the tonsils, and while typically the bacteria are not involved in those cases, they may occur as a super infection on top of the viral infection. So, typically you'll need antibiotics whether it's a viral or bacterial tonsillitis. Removing the tonsils in a tonsillectomy helps prevent further sore throats by removing the tissue that becomes inflamed, and is sampling all these things that are coming into you body. Does that decrease you body's ability to fight infection? No, but it decreases the inflammation in the throat when you do get an infection so that you don't have the sore throat and the chronic pain. The tonsils are just a local collection of lymph nodes. You have lymph nodes throughout your entire body. It's just in this one area that they're formed into this big massive ball. So, just like in the neck when you feel some swelling; when you have a cold and you're like "My glands are swollen," as people say; it's really lymph nodes. The tonsils are just in the middle of your throat. When you do have a cold or you do have an infection, they swell and they just cause a lot of pain. So, you remove that massive swelling of lymph tissues and it relieves the symptoms but your body is still able to sample bacteria and viruses and still able to fight them without any problem.

What are the symptoms of tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is an inflammation or infection of the tonsils that are in the throat or the adenoids, which are also tonsils, which are in the back of the nose. The symptoms are typically throat pain, fever, fetid, odored breath. You may have pus or small particles that are coming out of the tonsils that you can taste. Patients may have problems with their breathing, inability to eat food, problems swallowing as well. Those are typical signs of a tonsillitis.

What are the symptoms of enlarged adenoids?

Adenoids are located in the back of the nose. So symptoms of infected adenoids will be either increased nasal secretions, or pus coming from the nose. You may have problems with your breathing as enlarged adenoids obstruct the back of the nose, and cause a general sore feeling in the back of the throat and pallate.

What are the treatments for tonsil and adenoid diseases?

Typically, tonsillitis and adenoiditis are treated with antibiotics. If patients suffer from recurrent tonsillitis or chronic tonsillitis, typically they'll undergo surgery to remove the tonsils and adenoids. Most commonly it's done in childhood. Sometimes adults can suffer from tonsillitis as well and their tonsils are removed just like in children. Children typically get tonsillitis more than adults simply because they're newly experiencing these pathogens and viruses and bacterias to their body so they get more information in the area. By the time you reach adulthood, you've been exposed to numerous environmental pathogens so you react less and the tonsils actually shrink as you become older.

Is it safe to have my tonsils or adenoids removed?

Tonsils and adenoids can be removed safely with tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy. It's a very safe procedure. It does not increase your chances of getting a future infection. It actually decreases the chance of getting a future infection. And patients usually do very well after surgery and their sore throats are relieved from that point on.