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Tonsils and Adenoids Q&A with Tara Montgomery-Johnson, PA-C

Does removing the tonsils and adenoids hinder the immune system?

The tonsils and adenoids are both part of the immune system and help prevent infection by trapping any bacteria or viruses that come through the nose or mouth.  They also contain white blood cells which fight infections.  However, the tonsils and adenoids can get chronically inflamed and end up causing more problems than helping.  They can cause obstruction leading to sleep apnea and difficulty swallowing.  They can also harbor germs that contribute to increased sickness.  When they start to cause more harm than benefit, they should be surgically removed.  The body’s immune system is not hindered because there are many other components in your body that contribute to your immune function.

Can I get my tonsils out to prevent any problems in the future?

We only remove tonsils when it is medically necessary.  A recent medical study found that removing tonsils for no reason actually caused allergy problems later in life.  Also, most insurance companies will not pay for the surgery unless it is medically needed.

Can removing the tonsils and adenoids help with sleep apnea?

The tonsils and adenoids can become very large and chronically inflamed due to simple genetics or repeated exposure to bacteria or viruses.  When they become large they can obstruct the nasal/oral airway causing a decrease in oxygen to the brain, especially during sleep.  Symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring, restless sleeping, observed pauses in breathing, and gasping for air.  Once the obstruction is removed by either a tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy or both, the airway is then clear, allowing for adequate amounts of oxygen to get to the brain.  It does take three months for the body to fully adjust after surgery. 

It’s important to note that a tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy is the first line treatment for obstructive sleep apnea in children.  It is far less successful in adults, and C-Pap is usually the treatment of choice in adult patients.

How does a tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy help treat my child’s ADHD?

ADHD in children can sometimes be related to obstructive sleep apnea.  When children are not getting good quality sleep with sufficient oxygen to the brain, it can cause hyperactive behavior.  When the sleep apnea is treated, the hyperactive behavior improves.

I had a tonsillectomy as an adult.  Why didn’t I also have my adenoids removed?

Interesting fact: Adults don’t have adenoids because they shrink into adulthood.  

Can tonsils and adenoids grow back?

It is extremely rare for the tonsils to grow back.  However, adenoids commonly regrow especially when they are initially removed at a very young age.  If your child had his/her adenoids removed and starts to snore a couple years later, then adenoid regrowth should be considered.