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Tonsils & Adenoids

The tonsils are lymph nodes in the back of the mouth and at the top of the throat. They normally help to filter out bacteria and other germs to prevent infection in the body. Tonsillitis is an inflammation of the tonsils. The tonsils may become so overwhelmed by a bacterial or viral infection that they swell and become inflamed, causing tonsillitis.

Adenoids also are lymph tissue found in the airway between the nose and back of the throat. This tissue is similar to the tonsils. Enlarged adenoids may occur naturally, beginning when the baby grows in the womb, but long-term inflammation can also lead to enlarged adenoids and other problems.

If bacteria, such as strep, are causing tonsillitis, antibiotics usually are prescribed to treat the infection. Antibiotics also may be used to treat adenoid infections.

Other treatments for tonsillitis include:

  • Drink cold liquids or suck on popsicles
  • Drink fluids, especially warm (not hot), bland fluids
  • Gargle with warm salt water
  • Suck on lozenges (containing benzocaine or similar ingredients) to reduce pain (these should not be used in young children because of the choking risk)
  • Take over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen to reduce pain and fever. Do NOT give a child aspirin. Aspirin has been linked to Reye syndrome.

Some people who have repeated infections may need surgery to remove the tonsils called a tonsillectomy.

Surgery to remove the adenoids, called an adenoidectomy, may relieve symptoms or prevent complications in those with frequent ear or sinus infections, fluid behind the ears or sleep apnea.

If you have enlarged tonsils or adenoids, one of the board-certified ear, nose and throat specialists with Saint John Hospital may be able to help you. They can provide testing to determine the cause of the problem, and offer proven medical and surgical treatments.