Adenoiditis is an inflammation of the adenoids caused by infection. Adenoids are masses of lymphatic tissue that help the body fight infection. Adenoids are found in the throat, also called the pharynx, just behind the nose. Along with the tonsils, adenoids are the first line of defense against bacteria and viruses.
The lymphatic system performs several roles to help protect you from infection. Adenoids are part of the lymphatic system. Adenoids store white blood cells and antibodies that help to destroy possible infections threatening your health. If the adenoids become inflamed, they may not perform their function properly.
Adenoiditis may begin as a swelling or enlargement of the adenoids. The swelling may block or restrict your airways. It can also make it difficult to breathe through your nose.
Other problems associated with swollen adenoids include:
- sounding nasally when speaking, as if you’re 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
- snoring during the night or any time you sleep
- symptoms of infection, such as a runny nose that produces green or discolored mucus.
Adenoiditis can be caused by a bacterial infection, such as infection with the bacteria Streptococcus. It can also be caused by a number of viruses, including Epstein-Barr virus, adenovirus, and rhinovirus.
Certain risk factors can make you susceptible to infections of the adenoidal tissues. These may include:
- recurring infections in the throat, neck, or head
- infections of the tonsils
- contact with airborne viruses, germs, and bacteria
Children are more susceptible to adenoiditis. This is because adenoids progressively shrink through childhood. By the time you reach your late teen years your adenoids are generally gone.
Your doctor may refer you to a specialist called an otolaryngologist. An otolaryngologist is also known as an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor. An ENT doctor has specialized training in infections, diseases, and conditions of the ear, nose, and throat. Your ENT will most likely perform a physical examination to determine where the infection is located. They will also ask about your family history to determine if your condition is hereditary.
Other tests can include:
- throat examinations using swabs to obtain samples of bacteria and other organisms
- blood tests to determine the presence of organisms
- X-rays of your head and neck to determine the size of your adenoids and extent of infection
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.
You may experience infections of the middle ear. Your adenoids lie next to the Eustachian tubes, which are the tubes that allow fluid to drain from the ears. As your adenoiditis becomes more severe, the inflammation may block the opening of the tubes leading to the middle ear. This can lead to infection, as well as difficulty hearing.
This can occur when mucus builds up and blocks the middle ear. It typically begins as a blockage of the Eustachian tubes. It will impact your hearing.
Sinus Problems (Sinusitis)
Your sinus cavities may fill up with fluid and become infected. The sinuses are the hollow areas within the facial bones around your eyes and nose 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.
If a bacteria caused your adenoiditis, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. The use of antibiotics often proves successful in treating inflamed adenoidal tissue. If a virus caused your adenoiditis, your doctor will put you on a treatment plan that is specific to the virus.
Surgery to remove your adenoids may also be an option. This is called adenoidectomy. Surgery is used to remove adenoids that:
- don’t 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
Adenoiditis caused by a bacterial infection will go away with treatment with an antibiotic. And your breathing and swallowing will improve. Adenoiditis caused by a virus generally resolves on its own, and may take up to 2 to 3 weeks to fully resolve.
There are a few things you can do to try to prevent adenoiditis. Eating healthy foods and drinking plenty of fluids is important. Also, getting enough sleep can help. Using good hygiene practices can minimize the chance of infection.
If your child has symptoms of adenoiditis or problems with their throat, seek the advice of their pediatrician.