Adenoiditis: An Infection of Your Infection-Fighting Tissue

Written by Brindles Lee Macon | Published on August 7, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What is Adenoiditis?

Adenoiditis is an inflammation of the adenoids. Adenoids are masses of lymph tissue that help the body fight infection. Adenoids are found in the pharynx (throat) just behind the nose. Along with the tonsils, adenoids are the first line of defense in your throat.

The lymphatic system performs several roles to help protect you from infection. Adenoids store white blood cells and antibodies that help to destroy possible infections threatening your health. Inflamed adenoids may not perform their function properly.

What Causes Adenoiditis?

Adenoiditis can be caused by a bacterial infection, such as Streptococcus, or by viruses, such as the Epstein-Barr virus (among others).

Who Is at Risk for Adenoiditis?

Certain risk factors make you susceptible to infections of the adenoidal tissues. The risks are:

  • recurring infections in the throat, neck, or head
  • infections of the tonsils
  • contact with airborne viruses, germs, and bacteria

Everyone is born with large adenoids. They begin to shrink as we age. Children are often more susceptible to adenoiditis because their adenoids have not shrunk down yet.

What Are the Symptoms of Adenoiditis?

Adenoiditis may begin as a swelling or enlargement of the tissue. The swelling may block or restrict your airways. It can make it difficult to breathe through your nose.

Other problems associated with swollen adenoids include:

  • trouble pronouncing certain letters of the alphabet, such as the letter “m”
  • sounding “nasal” when speaking, as if you were talking through your nose
  • sore or dry throat from breathing through the mouth
  • breathing through your mouth becomes more comfortable than breathing through your nose. It may be the only option for you if your adenoids are very swollen.
  • snoring during the night or any time you sleep
  • signs of infection, such as a runny nose that produces green or discolored mucus.

What Are The Complications of Adenoiditis?

You may experience a number of complications from adenoiditis. These complications may result in chronic or severe inflammation in adenoidal tissues that spread to other locations of the head and neck.

Ear Infections

You may experience infections in the middle ear. Your adenoids lie next to the Eustachian tubes of the middle ear. As adenoiditis symptoms increase, the inflammation may block the opening of the tubes leading to the middle ear leading to infection and difficulty hearing.

Glue Ear

This complication occurs when mucus builds up and blocks the middle ear, which affects your hearing. It typically begins as a blockage of the Eustachian tubes, which are the tubes that allow fluid to drain from the ears.

Sinus Problems (Sinusitis)

Your sinus cavities may fill up with fluid and become infected. The sinuses are the hollow areas within the facial bones that contain pockets of air.

Infections of the Chest

You may experience a chest infection, such as pneumonia or bronchitis, if your adenoids become severely infected with a virus or bacteria. The infection may spread to the lungs, bronchioles, and other structures in the respiratory system.

Diagnosing Adenoiditis

Your primary care physician may refer you over to a specialist called an otolaryngologist, or ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT). An ENT doctor has specialized training in infections, diseases and conditions of the ear, nose, and throat. You may undergo a physical examination to determine where the infection is located.

Other tests include:

  • throat examinations using swabs to obtain samples of bacteria and other organisms
  • blood tests to determine the presence of organisms that may show in blood
  • X-rays of the adenoids to determine their size and extent of infection

The ENT doctor may require information about your family history to determine if your condition is hereditary.

Treating Adenoiditis

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to cure your infection. The use of antibiotics often proves successful in treating inflamed adenoidal tissue. Surgery to remove your adenoids may also be an option. Surgery is used to remove adenoids that:

  • do not get better with antibiotics
  • have recurring infections
  • exist alongside an underlying health issue, such as cancer or a tumor of the throat and neck
  • cause breathing and swallowing problems

Outlook: Does Adenoiditis Clear up Easily?

Most antibiotics clear up infections. Your breathing and swallowing may also improve.

How Do I Prevent Adenoiditis?

You can help prevent infection in your adenoids, as well as those of your children, by eating healthy foods and drinking plenty of fluids. Getting enough sleep at night can also help. If your child has problems with their adenoids, seek the advice of her pediatrician.

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