Adenoids are an area of tissue behind the nose, at the top of the throat. Their job is to keep bacteria and viruses from entering the body through the airway. As children grow, the tissue gets smaller and virtually disappears by the time they are in their teens.
Infections and allergies can cause adenoids to become enlarged. This swelling usually resolves on its own, but it may induce other symptoms, or the adenoids may stay enlarged after the infection is gone.
Symptoms of enlarged adenoids
Enlarged adenoids can cause various symptoms:
- Snoring or obstructive sleep apnea.
- Frequent runny nose or congestion.
- Nasally speech.
- Frequent sinus infections.
- Frequent ear infections.
- Dry mouth or cracked lips.
- Noisy breathing.
- Mouth breathing.
- Bad breath.
- Restless sleep.
Diagnosing enlarged adenoids
Your healthcare provider may use a mirror and flexible light to view and diagnose the adenoids while checking your child’s ears, nose, and throat. Unlike tonsils, a provider cannot see adenoids by looking into the mouth and throat. Providers may also diagnose based on history, x-ray, blood test, or sleep study.
Help your child feel better
Focus on making your child comfortable. Here are things you can do to help them feel better while their adenoids are inflamed, or they suffer from some of the other symptoms listed above:
- Treat Pain or Fever. Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain or fever. Read the instructions on the label or use these handy dosing charts for ibuprofen and acetaminophen to make sure you give the correct amount to your child.
- Increase Oral Fluids. Encourage your child to drink extra fluids to stay hydrated and soothe discomfort. Your child may prefer warm or cool drinks, whichever gets them drinking more and feels better to them. Plenty of water will also increase flushing to remove germs and bacteria.
- Throat lozenges. Older children might find comfort in using lozenges to soothe the throat and help keep it moist. Use caution, though, as these can create a choking hazard with small children and should be avoided in very young children altogether.
- Humidifier. Cool mist humidifiers can make breathing easier when airways and adenoids are dry, inflamed, or irritated. Place a humidifier in the bedroom at night where the child sleeps to help ease breathing. Use cool mist humidifiers versus moist heat to avoid mold and bacteria growth. In the same respect, steam from hot showers can also temporarily relieve dryness in the airway.
- Cold foods. What a delight! Popsicles, ice cream, and other frozen and cold treats can soothe pain, swollen, or irritated adenoids. Some of these treats can keep children hydrated and may be easier to eat.
- Get enough rest. Try to make sure your child gets enough rest. It may be challenging with small children who like to play and move, but encourage them to get enough sleep and play quietly as much as possible.
Other options that may provide comfort include gargling warm salt or baking soda water, which can decrease bacteria in the mouth and throat. A soft food diet can make swallowing easier. Throat sprays may soothe your child's throat, but discuss this with your healthcare provider. Use caution as sprays may present a choking hazard in small children due to the numbing agents found in them.
Additional medical treatment vs. surgery
Treatment is often determined based on what is causing the problem or the severity of the child's symptoms.
Nasal sprays and antihistamines might reduce swelling if allergies are suspected. These sprays can ease some symptoms if they are beneficial.
Antibiotics may be necessary if a bacterial infection is suspected. Be sure to give the antibiotics as directed, and do not stop using simply because your child feels better. Symptoms often improve after a few days, but the infection is not gone. Antibiotics are not effective in treating viral infections. If the provider suspects a virus, they will encourage you to focus on measures to make the child more comfortable until symptoms improve.
Children may struggle with enlarged adenoids that can cause several health issues. Adenoids gradually shrivel as children grow, but they may cause trouble during the first several years. Making your child comfortable during these illnesses will help, though healthcare providers may suggest having the adenoids removed. If your healthcare provider suggests surgery called an adenoidectomy, discuss the procedure and what options are available for your child and determine what is best for your child. Surgery may not be the only option.