The tonsils are a pair ofsoft tissue masses located on either side of the back of the throat. They are made of “lymphoid” tissue similar to the lymph nodes of the neck and are a part of the immune system. The adenoids are very similar to the tonsils, but are located in the back of the nose above the soft palate.
Both the tonsils and the adenoids can become enlarged, typically in young children but also in adults. This enlargement can happen suddenly in response to infection, but more commonly this occurs slowly over the first few years of life. If the tonsils and adenoids become significantly enlarged, they can potentially block the breathing passageways in your nose and throat. Significant enlargement can potentially cause obstruction of the airway when sleeping, a problem known as “sleep apnea.”
As a part of the immune system, the purpose of the tonsils and adenoids is to fight infection. However, in some cases the tonsils and adenoids can become chronically infected and develop into the source of recurrent throat infections. When the tonsils and adenoids become problematic due to blockage of the airway or frequent infections, surgery to remove them can be considered. This surgery is referred to as “tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy” and is one of the most common procedures performed in the United States.