Just like tonsils, adenoids are also lymphoid tissues, assigned with the task of aiding the immune system in fighting infections. While tonsils are like two masses of tissues, located on either side of the back of the throat, adenoids are located high in the throat, behind the soft palate and at the back of the nose, where the nose merges with the mouth. Tonsils, being situated in the throat, are visible, but adenoids can be seen through the mouth only, that too with special instruments.
Functions and Growth of Adenoids
Adenoids, along with tonsils, help the body fight infections. While breathing, air-borne disease-causing germs enter the mouth and get trapped by the sticky mucus and the hair. Adenoids produce antibodies and white blood cells to destroy these germs. While carrying out this function, the adenoids are exposed to the risk of getting infected. This leads to inflammation of the adenoids, which can cause further complications.
During birth, babies may not have visible adenoids and tonsils. As the baby grows, the adenoids along with tonsils increase in size and a peak size is attained within the age of five. However, the size gradually decreases and both will shrink before the child reaches puberty. It has been observed that this happens, as the child crosses six or seven years of age. So, enlarged or swollen tonsils and adenoids in adults are not common, as in children.
But, in some children, the adenoids and tonsils do not shrink with time and such kids may carry this condition to adulthood. In some adults, shrunk tonsils or adenoids may get infected and enlarged. Even if the adenoids diminish in size, as the child reaches adulthood, they may get enlarged once again due to primary or reactivation of certain bacterial or viral infections. One such example is Epstein Barr Virus infection.
Swollen Adenoid Symptoms in Adults
Owing to the strategic location of the adenoids, an inflammation of the same, may result in severe discomfort to the affected person. The severity of symptoms may vary with the degree of infection and inflammation. An infection of adenoids in adults results in its swelling. As the adenoids are located in the airway, such inflammation obstructs air passage and cause problems with breathing through the nose. The following are some of the swollen adenoid symptoms.
- Snoring, Noisy breathing
- Blocked nose
- Breathing through the mouth
- Nasal speech
- Dry or sore throat in the morning
- Habit of keeping the mouth open
- Sleep Apnea
It has also been observed that in most cases of adenoid infection, the tonsils too get infected and inflamed simultaneously. The enlarged tonsils and adenoids, form a ring-like structure, on the back of the throat, which narrows the airways and leads to restricted supply of air to the lungs. During day time, this is compensated by breathing through the mouth. But, during night, the muscles of the airways relax, thereby causing further blockage.
A drop in the air pressure to the lungs leads to apnea (temporary inability to breathe), which in turn results in interrupted sleep. Such condition is termed as obstructive sleep apnea. Other adenoid symptoms in adults include fatigue and headaches, due to inadequate sleep. The affected person may also develop a persistent bad breath and/or a foul taste.
Enlarged Adenoid Complications
Swollen adenoids in adults may cause obstructive sleep apnea, which, if left untreated may lead to high blood pressure and heart problems. Infection of the adenoids may spread to the ears and cause middle ear infections, which may affect hearing too. Another condition called glue ear (build-up of sticky mucus in the middle ear) may also be caused by adenoids infection.
Such infection may also result in sinus infection, chest infection and vomiting. The infection may spread to the mucous membranes of the vocal cord and larynx, thereby causing cough. In some people, the adenoids may swell and completely block the air passage through the nasal openings. In case of kids, adenoids may cause forward tongue posture, prominent upper teeth and elongated face (adenoid facies).
Adenoid Surgery in Adults
In children, the adenoids can get bigger in size that may vary from one child to another. In some kids, it can grow to the size of a ping-pong ball. However, the enlarged adenoids in most children shrink and flatten as they grow. Though antibiotics may cure infection of the adenoids, these drugs may not be effective in shrinking the chronically enlarged structures, which can cause persistent symptoms and complications. So, surgical removal of these structures is recommended.
If the enlarged adenoids are causing recurrent ear infection or severe sleep apnea, then surgery to remove the adenoids (adenoidectomy) is suggested. Adenoidectomy is recommended for adults experiencing the same symptoms. Though, it is very uncommon to find adenoid swelling in adults, there are people who develop severe adenoid symptoms and require adenoidectomy. Adenoid surgery in adults is also suggested for severe snoring or in case of cancer of the region. Even those with recurrent tonsil and chest infections, may be advised to undergo this surgery.
Though, very rare, swollen adenoids in adults can cause almost similar symptoms as in the case of children. It is not a life-threatening condition, but you have to seek immediate medical attention, in case you observe severe symptoms. Otherwise too, you have to consult a doctor, for swollen adenoid symptoms in adults.