Enlarged Adenoids

Last Updated July 2021 | This article was created by familydoctor.org editorial staff and reviewed by Kyle Bradford Jones

What are enlarged adenoids?

Adenoids are tiny pieces of tissue in the back of your throat. They hang above your tonsils. You may be able to see your tonsils at the back of your throat, but you cannot see your adenoids.

Adenoids help fight infections in your body. They are the most helpful between birth and age 5. Adenoids are like a sponge. They catch the germs that make you sick. That’s what causes them to increase in size. They return to normal size when you are healthy.

After age 5, they shrink in size. They no longer play a big role in your body’s health. It is not normal for them to remain swollen (enlarged). However, if they do, you need to see your doctor. This rarely happens as an adult.

Symptoms of enlarged adenoids

If you have enlarged adenoids, you may have these symptoms:

  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Feeling like your ears are blocked
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swollen neck glands
  • Snoring
  • Sleep apnea (a condition that causes you to stop breathing for short periods while sleeping)
  • Chapped lips/bad breath (due to breathing through your mouth)

What causes enlarged adenoids?

Infections cause adenoids to temporarily increase in size.

How are enlarged adenoids diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a physical exam. They will look at the back of your throat. This may be done by inserting a thin, flexible scope with a mirror through your nose and down the back of your throat. This procedure may be uncomfortable but should not be painful.

Tell your doctor if you have a stuffy nose, sore throat, or your ears hurt. They may order a blood test to see if you have an infection. Your doctor may also order a sleep study to see if you have sleep apnea. This helps determine whether enlarged adenoids are the reason for your sleep problems.

Can enlarged adenoids be prevented or avoided?

Having enlarged adenoids is a common condition for children. It is less of an issue as people age. There is nothing you can do to prevent it. Prompt attention for a sore throat or ear infection can help your doctor monitor the size of your adenoids. This may reduce your discomfort.

Enlarged adenoids treatment

Treatment depends on your age and how long your adenoids have been enlarged. Your doctor may monitor the adenoids’ size over time. They may prescribe medicines or a nasal spray to reduce swelling. Surgery to remove your adenoids and tonsils at the same time is common. This is common if you have frequent ear and throat infections, trouble breathing, or sleep apnea.

Living with enlarged adenoids

Children with enlarged adenoids are treated with an antibiotic. This is to eliminate the infection that is causing enlarged adenoids. Be sure your child takes the full dose. A partial dose will allow the infection to return. If medicine is not effective after repeated illness, your doctor may discuss surgery.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Do enlarged adenoids cause snoring?
  • Can I have my child’s adenoids removed as an elective surgery?
  • Is having enlarged adenoids hereditary?
  • What is the recovery time for adenoid surgery?
  • Does strep throat cause enlarged adenoids?