Until just a few years ago, almost all children had their tonsils and adenoids removed before they reached five or six years of age. That was because the tonsils and adenoids would become infected so often and would cause frequent colds, sore throats, and high fever. We are much luckier today than we used to be because wonderful new medicines like penicillin and other antibiotics are able to cure tonsil and adenoid infections before a child really gets very sick. As a result, many children nowadays don’t need to have their tonsils and adenoids removed.
Unfortunately, some youngsters get infections of the tonsils and adenoids over and over again, even though they are given penicillin or some other medicine like it. These children are much better off if they go to the hospital for a day or two and have their tonsils and adenoids removed. Then, they can’t ever get infected again!
Everyone has two tonsils, located in the back of the throat, one on each side just back of the tongue. They are about the size and shape of a large green olive, but when they become infected— wow!—they can be swollen almost to the size of a plum.
The adenoids are hidden high up behind the throat near the back of the nose. When they become infected and enlarged, they often make it difficult for a child to breathe through the nose. You have seen little girls or boys, haven’t you, who always have their mouths open and seem to have a sort of dumb look on their faces? Well, they aren’t really dumb or stupid; they just look that way because their adenoids are swollen and block air that ordinarily passes out of the back of the nose and goes down into the windpipe in the neck. In order to get enough air into their lungs, children with large adenoids breathe through their mouths.
The tonsils and the adenoids are removed at the same time so that the two problems—frequent sore throats and mouth breathing—are both solved by the one simple operation. Fortunately, removal of the tonsils and adenoids is not very serious and doesn’t cause too much pain or discomfort. Oh, the throat is usually sore for a couple of days after the operation, and it is necessary to stay indoors for a few days after coming home from the hospital. But just think how great it will be to get rid of those awful sore throats, and how good it will feel to breathe easily through the nose!
On the right, one tonsil is of normal size and the other one is enlarged because of infection. On the left, the enlarged adenoids are shown. These gland like organs are believed to localize and give immunity to some respiratory infections. However, when they are chronically enlarged they should be removed.