What are adenoids?

Adenoids are glands located above the roof of the mouth, behind the nose. They look like small lumps of tissue, and serve an important purpose in young children. Adenoids are part of the immune system and help protect the body from viruses and bacteria. Adenoids begin to shrink around age 5 to 7 in children, and can be almost completely gone by the teenage years.

What is an adenoidectomy?

An adenoidectomy, or adenoid removal, is surgery to remove the adenoid glands.

While adenoids help protect the body from viruses and bacteria, they sometimes become swollen and enlarged or chronically infected. This can be due to infections, allergies, or other reasons. Some children may also be born with abnormally large adenoids.

When a child’s adenoids become enlarged, they can cause problems by partially blocking his or her airway. When this happens, children can have breathing problems, ear infections, or other complications, which can lead to snoring or more serious conditions such as sleep apnea (stopping breathing) at night.

Chronic (long-term) nasal drainage, congestion and sinus infections can also be seen. Enlarged adenoids can also affect the recurrence (return) of ear infections and chronic fluid in the ear, which can result in temporary hearing loss.

Surgery to remove the glands is often needed. Removing them has not been shown to affect a child’s ability to fight infections.

An adenoidectomy is mostly done for children who are between the ages of 1 and 7. By the time a child is 7, the adenoids begin to shrink, and they are considered a vestigial organ in adults (a remnant with no purpose).

How does a doctor determine if a child needs an adenoidectomy?

If you suspect your child has an issue with his or her adenoids because of problems with breathing, ears, or recurrent sinus infections, you should consult your doctor. After taking a health history, the doctor will examine your child’s adenoids, either with an x-ray or with a small camera placed in your child’s nose.

Based on your child’s symptoms and if his or her adenoids appear enlarged, your doctor may recommend that the adenoids be removed.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/06/2019.


  • American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery Foundation. Tonsils and Adenoids. Accessed 6/20/2019.
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine/MedlinePlus. Adenoids. Accessed 6/20/2019.
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. Treating Middle Ear Fluid. Accessed 6/20/2019.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy