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Adenoids and Tonsils: When to See an ENT

Aug. 25, 2017 at 8:56 a.m.
Updated Aug. 25, 2017 at 8:56 a.m.

Do you know the difference between adenoids and tonsils? Or when your child should see an ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT)? Here's a guide to swollen adenoids and tonsillitis — two conditions that your child might develop.

What are Adenoids?

Only children get adenoids. These are lumps of tissue that develop at the back of the nose, just above the mouth's palate. They are part of the immune system and produce antibodies which protect against bacteria and viruses.

For most children, adenoids aren't a big deal. They grow from birth, shrink in size during adolescence, and usually disappear by adulthood. However, if your child experiences enlarged and swollen adenoids, you should make an appointment to see an ENT. Although you can't see your child's adenoids, there are plenty of symptoms to look for. These include frequent ear infections, difficulty swallowing, breathing through the nose, habitual mouth breathing, and sore throat.

What Will an ENT Do?

An ENT might carry out something called an adenoidectomy — a surgical procedure that removes your child's adenoids. An adenoidectomy is rarely performed on someone older than 14, says the American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. Also, ENTs are more likely to carry out this procedure on a boy than a girl.

What are Tonsils?

Tonsils are glands that develop on both sides of the throat. Like adenoids, they fight infection. Some children don't experience any problems with their tonsils. Others, however, might develop tonsillitis — inflammation of the tonsils as a result of a bacterial or viral infection. Some of the symptoms associated with tonsillitis include a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, earaches, fever and bad breath. If your child experiences tonsillitis on a regular basis — at least seven bouts of tonsillitis in the previous year or five or more over each of the previous two years, says Healthline — you should make an appointment to visit an ENT.

What Will an ENT Do?

An ENT might suggest a tonsillectomy — a surgical procedure to remove the tonsils. Tonsillectomy is a relatively common surgery in the United States. Each year, ENTs carry out 530,000 procedures in children younger than 15 years.

Eight percent of children have to revisit the hospital within 30 days of having a tonsillectomy, according to one study. You can avoid this, however, with proper aftercare. Your child should drink plenty of fluids after surgery, for example, to reduce bleeding and facilitate healing.

In most cases, swollen adenoids and frequent tonsillitis are nothing to worry about. However, you should make an appointment with an ENT, who can diagnose the problem and provide you with expert advice. Look out for some of the most common symptoms associated with either condition — sore throat, difficulty swallowing, ear infection, etc. — when assessing your child's health.


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