Could My Child Need His Tonsils or Adenoids Removed?

Tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies are two of the most common procedures performed by otolaryngologists (ENTs) at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. We perform thousands of tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies each year. Our team brings their pediatric expertise and years of experience to every procedure.

What are tonsils?

Tonsils are a collection of lymph tissue located on each side of the back of your throat that functions as a defense mechanism. They help your body recognize normal and abnormal germs in your mouth. When tonsils are infected, the condition is called tonsillitis. Tonsils are largest in 3 to 6 year olds and smallest during teen and adult years. Tonsils are part of the body's immune system, but studies show removing tonsils does not significantly affect the body’s ability to fight infection.

What are adenoids?

Adenoids are glands located in the roof of the mouth behind the soft palate where the nose connects to the throat. Adenoids help filter the air you breathe through your nose and produce antibodies, or white blood cells, that help fight infection. Typically, adenoids shrink during adolescence and may disappear by adulthood.

Signs your child might need a tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy:

  • Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea: tonsils and adenoids can cause snoring, blocked breathing during sleep and obstructive sleep apnea
  • Frequent tonsil infections: usually six to seven in one year, or two to three a year for more than a few years
  • Recurring throat infections or strep throat: usually more than seven in one year, five of each in two years, or three of each in three years
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing: can be related to enlarged tonsils
  • Mouth breathing: occurring with noticeable mouth odor and the feeling of a plugged nose, which is usually a sign of large adenoids
  • Enlargement of one tonsil: may cause pain on one side of throat

What are the risks of a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy?

Complications are very rare. When considering surgery, it is important to weigh the risks and benefits of the surgery, including improving your child’s quality of life from illness and relieving blocked airways (sleep apnea). Some children may be hospitalized for observation if there is any bleeding, which can happen up to 10 to 14 days after surgery. In rare situations, bleeding can be severe and may require additional surgery.

Our pediatric ENTs at Children’s will work with families to make a shared decision based on sound evidence and the ENT national guidelines in order to help you make the best decision for your child.

What to expect if your child needs a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy

Most children will go home the same day as the surgery once fully recovered from anesthesia, unless they have other medical conditions, severe sleep apnea or are younger than 3 years old.

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This content has been clinically reviewed by Steven Goudy, MD, Pediatric Otolaryngologist.