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Tonsils and Adenoids

What are tonsils?

TThe tonsils are tissue in the back of the throat which act as filters. There are two tonsils which sit on either side of the uvula, which is the structure which hangs down in the back of the throat. When the tonsils are small (as in young babies and in most adults) they are barely visible. Between the age of two and five, the tonsils peak in size and may be large enough to touch each other. It is normal for a young child to have large tonsils, and if they appear normal and are not causing any problem the size of the tonsils alone is generally not a concern.

The tonsils are lymph tissue, one of the parts of the body that is used to fight infections. Tonsils only represent a small portion of the body's defense systems; lymphoid tissue is present all along the lining of the nose, mouth, throat and in the neck. The tonsils, due to their location in the mouth, are some of the most easily viewed lymph tissue.

What are adenoids?

The adenoids, which sit in the back of the nose, are also lymph tissue similar to the tonsils. They also act as filters in the body. The adenoids cannot be seen without special instruments or x-rays, since they are hidden from view by the palate. The adenoids are located in an area called the nasopharynx, and, if large enough, they can block air from flowing through the nose. Just as with tonsils, it is normal for a young child to have large adenoids, and the fact that the adenoids are large is not a reason for surgery. Babies are born with very small tonsils and adenoids. The adenoids begin to grow in the first year of life. They peak in size between age one and five, then slowly get smaller as a child grows. While the occasional teenager may still have adenoids big enough to cause blockage of the nose, this is rare and the adenoids typically shrink away before adolescence.