The adenoids are sections of soft tissue found at the back of the nasal cavities where they meet the pharynx. Like tonsils, adenoids help to stop harmful bacteria and airborne pathogens from entering the airways and causing infections. When the adenoids themselves are infected, they become inflamed and enlarged in a condition known as adenoid hypertrophy. Adults and children who experience multiple sinus infections, chronic snoring, and worsening breathing problems should be evaluated by physicians to check for adenoid hypertrophy and discuss treatment options.
Adenoid hypertrophy is a natural part of early airway development. The adenoids continue to grow from birth to around the age of seven, and then gradually start to shrink. Most young children do not experience symptoms during the natural growth and shrinking phases. Repeat staphylococci, streptococci, or Epstein-Barr infections at any age, however, can cause adenoid inflammation and swelling that lead to hypertrophy.
Small pockets called crypts develop in the adenoids as they are damaged, which act as reservoirs for pathogens. As the adenoids continue to enlarge and bacteria or viruses build up in the crypts, chronic sinusitis and recurring inner ear infections become common. People typically experience frequent nasal congestion problems, sinus headaches, and ear pain. Constricted nasal airways can lead to loud snoring and possibly sleep apnea. Without treatment, adenoid swelling can become severe enough to cause serious breathing difficulties.
A primary care physician or pediatrician can check for signs of the disorder by using a specialized mirror device to look at the tissue. Neck x-rays may be taken to evaluate the degree of pharynx obstruction. The doctor might also collect a scraping of tissue from the throat or adenoids to check for specific bacteria or viruses.
After confirming a diagnosis, the doctor can determine the best course of treatment. Antibiotics and decongestants are usually prescribed to ease symptoms of sinusitis and ear infections. If the adenoids continue to cause problems despite taking medications, the physician can consider a surgical procedure called an adenoidectomy. Performed by an ear, nose, and throat surgeon, an adenoidectomy involves excising the entire mass of tissue with a scalpel or a cauterizing laser.
Since adenoid hypertrophy is often accompanied by tonsil swelling, a tonsillectomy may be performed as well. Following surgery, a patient usually needs to take antibiotics for two to four weeks to promote fast tissue healing. Most children and adults who have their adenoids and tonsils removed enjoy quick, full recoveries.