What Causes Swollen Adenoids?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 11 June 2019
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Swollen adenoids can be caused by infection or inflammation. In some cases, they are natural, a result of entirely normal variations in the size and shape of the adenoids. When swollen adenoids are identified, a doctor will determine whether they are causing problems for the patient and make treatment recommendations on that basis. Sometimes, the recommended treatment is no treatment at all, allowing the problem to resolve on its own.

The adenoids are masses of glandular tissue found in the back of the throat. They act to trap viruses and bacteria and are part of the immune system. They usually continue to grow until people reach the age of five or six, and remain the same size throughout a person's life. The adenoids and tonsils, similar tissue located in the mouth, are closely linked, and often when something is wrong with the tonsils, it can also be seen in the adenoids, and vice versa.

One reason for swollen adenoids is because the tissue is doing its job. If bacteria and viruses reach the throat and are caught by the adenoids, they will swell. The body may be able to fight off the infection on its own, or it may need some help with antibiotics or antiviral drugs to kill the organisms causing the infection. Over time, chronic inflammation of the adenoids as a result of repeat infections can also contribute to swelling.


Allergies can also lead to swollen adenoids. In people with allergies, the immune system incorrectly identifies ordinary substances are harmful and exposure to these substances triggers an immune reaction. When allergens reach the adenoids, the immune system triggers inflammation in response and the adenoids swell. Chronic allergies can create persistently swollen adenoids.

In some people, the adenoids are simply large. This is entirely natural and is not a response to environmental conditions or other factors. If a patient presents with large adenoids and no signs of infection or inflammation, a doctor may determine the tissue is simply larger in that individual.

Swollen adenoids can obstruct breathing, lead to ear infections, and cause other problems. If the swelling cannot be treated, a doctor may recommend an adenoidectomy to remove the tissue. Historically, tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies were widely recommended by medical practitioners. Today, doctors are more hesitant because this tissue appears to play an important role in immune function. A doctor will try options like antibiotics first to see if removal can be avoided.


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Post 3

Response for Clair De Lune Post 2.

Is it possible that your cousin is opening his mouth if using a nasal mask without a chin strap? If using a full-face mask, the air leaks from around the mask seal and will also throw the pap setting pressures off. Other problems could be not using pap therapy as ordered by the physician. Regardless, it may require another overnight pap titration study.

Post 2

A cousin of mine has had sleep apnea for about 20 years. The doctors don't know exactly what is blocking the airway. They think that it is partly the tongue that falls back, but his adenoids and tonsils are a little on the large size. So they may be part of the problem.

He uses a CPAP machine, but doesn't feel like he gets good quality sleep. He and his doctor are giving some thought to having his tonsils and adenoids taken out. This should clear his airways somewhat

His doctor is a little reluctant to take out the adenoids because they are lymphatic tissue, which helps with immunity. It's kind of a dilemma - breathe better at night or keep a body part that provides immunity from infections.

Post 1

Even though adenoids can become swollen and infected, I'm glad that the medical community decided some years ago that it usually wasn't a good idea to take out the adenoids and tonsils.

Unless one has chronic infections, doctors now try to treat the adenoids conservatively, rather than surgically remove the adenoids.

Medical research has found that the adenoids and the tonsils serve as part of the body's immune system.

I had my tonsils and adenoids removed when I was five years old. Most kids at that time did have their tonsils and sometimes the adenoids out. The doctors were too quick to remove the adenoids and tonsils of children.

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