The tonsils and adenoids are part of a ring of lymphoid tissue in the pharynx that helps fight bacteria and infections. The tonsils are the two masses in the back of the throat. The adenoids are above the tonsils in the back of the nasopharynx behind the nose. These are not seen easily without special instruments (a mirror or a scope through the nose).
Most of the time, the tonsils and adenoids do a good job. Problems arise when these are chronically infected or interfere with breathing, swallowing or sleeping. Abscesses around the tonsils can form and cause acute swelling, pain, and difficulty swallowing. Some people have recurrent tonsil infections separated by periods of being well. Others have chronic tonsillitis with constant debris coming from the tonsils or bad breath that goes away for a short time with antibiotics or mouth gargles and then comes right back. If chronically infected, the adenoids can also be a reservoir for bacteria that can then block the Eustachian tube or climb up the Eustachian tube into the middle ear and cause constant ear infections or fluid in the middle ear.
The adenoids can sometimes be so large as to completely block the back of the nose and make it very difficult to breathe through the nose at all. Enlarged tonsils can sometimes interfere with breathing and sleep which leads to obstructive sleep apnea.
Rarely, tumors can grow from the tonsils or nasopharynx. This needs to be evaluated and biopsied right away.
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