Tonsillitis and Adenoid Infection

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Treating a Sore Throat

Does My Child Need a Tonsillectomy?

Tonsillectomy, the surgical removal of masses of lymphoid tissue located in the back of the mouth, may have seemed like a childhood rite of passage for many children of previous generations. Tonsillectomy became a popular treatment for recurrent sore throats and respiratory infections as early as the 1800s, and its frequency peaked in the United States in the late 1950s to the 1970s. Today, doctors are more conservative in recommending tonsillectomy.

Tonsillitis and adenoid infection facts

  • Tonsils and adenoids are composed of tissues similar to the lymph nodes or glands.
  • Acute tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils caused by one of several types of bacteria or viruses.
  • Chronic tonsillitis is a persistent infection of the tonsils and can cause tonsil stone formation.
  • Symptoms of tonsil or adenoid infection include
  • Peritonsillar abscess is a collection of pus behind the tonsils.
  • Obstruction to breathing by enlarged tonsils and adenoids may cause snoring and disturbed sleep patterns.
  • Bacterial infections of the tonsils and adenoids are treated with antibiotics, viral infections are not.
  • Tonsillitis and adenoid infections are diagnosed with a history and physical exam. A throat culture and rapid strep test may be ordered in cases of tonsillitis suspected to be bacterial.
  • Tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy may be indicated: (1) for repeated or persistent infections; (2) when serious complications of infection occur; and (3) when enlargement of the tonsils and adenoids causes breathing, swallowing, or dental problems.

What are the tonsils and adenoids?

The tonsils and adenoids are composed of tissues similar to the lymph nodes or glands found in the neck or other parts of the body. Together, they are part of a ring of glandular tissue (Waldeyer's ring) encircling the back of the throat.

The tonsils are the two masses of tissue on either side of the back of the throat. Normal tonsils are usually about the same size and have the same pink color as the surrounding area. On their surfaces are little depressions, called crypts, which may appear deep and contain pus pockets or tonsil stones.

The adenoids are located high in the throat behind the nose and soft palate (the roof of the mouth) and unlike the tonsils, are not easily visible through the mouth. A tonsillectomy and an adenoidectomy (commonly referred to as a T & A) are surgical procedures performed to remove the tonsils and adenoids.

What is the purpose of the tonsils and adenoids?

The tonsils and adenoids are thought to assist the body in its defense against incoming bacteria and viruses by helping the body form antibodies. However, this function may only be important during the first year of life. There is no evidence to support a significant role of the tonsils and adenoids in immunity. Medical studies have shown that children who have their tonsils and adenoids removed suffer no loss in their future immunity to disease or ability to ward off infections.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/25/2016

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