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.
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).
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.
An adenoidectomy is a straightforward, relatively short procedure usually done on an outpatient basis by an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgeon. Your child will be placed under general anesthesia for the procedure.
During surgery, the doctor will widely open your child’s mouth with a retractor while the child is asleep, and then remove the adenoids using one of several techniques. The doctor may use an electrical device to help stop the bleeding.
Your child will then be taken to a recovery room until he or she awakens from the anesthesia. Most children will be able to return home on the day of their surgery.
The risks of an adenoidectomy are rare but include:
Your doctor should thoroughly explain all of the risks of adenoid removal and answer your questions before you agree to the procedure.
After an adenoidectomy, a child almost always has a full recovery to a healthier life with far fewer breathing and ear problems. Your child may temporarily have a sore throat, earaches, bad breath, or stuffy-feeling nose as he or she recovers.
© Copyright 1995-2020 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.
This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 03/06/2019