What is an adenoidectomy?

An adenoidectomy is the surgical removal of the adenoids. The adenoids are glands located in the throat behind the nose. They are not visible through the mouth.

The adenoids fight infection, but they can become infected and enlarged themselves. This can cause persistent breathing difficulty, sleep apnea (pauses in breathing during sleep), sinus infections, ear infections, and hearing loss. Your doctor may recommend an adenoidectomy for your child to treat these conditions.

The adenoids are largest in infants and younger children. Large adenoids are more likely to become infected. This is why doctors perform most adenoidectomies on younger children. Adenoids begin to shrink around age five and may disappear in time. It is rare for adults to have an adenoidectomy.

Your child may have less invasive treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all the treatment choices before your child has an adenoidectomy.

Other procedures that may be performed

Doctors often remove the tonsils (tonsillectomy) during the same procedure. The tonsils are also infection-fighting glands located in the throat. Tonsils can become infected and enlarged along with the adenoids and cause similar problems. 

Why is an adenoidectomy performed?

Your doctor may recommend an adenoidectomy when the adenoids become infected or enlarged and cause persistent: 

  • Excessive and loud snoring due to enlarged adenoids that block the breathing passages
  • Difficulty breathing through the nose due to enlarged adenoids
  • Recurrent ear infections, possibly leading to hearing loss
  • Sinus infections, also known as sinusitis
  • Sleep apnea, or pauses in breathing during sleep

Doctors also remove the adenoids to treat cancer or a tumor affecting the adenoids.

Your doctor may only consider adenoidectomy if other treatment options that involve less risk of complications have been ineffective. Ask your doctor about all of your child’s treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on an adenoidectomy.

Who performs an adenoidectomy?

The following surgeons perform adenoidectomy: 

  • General surgeons specialize in the surgical treatment of a wide variety of diseases, disorders and conditions. 
  • Otolaryngologists (ENTs) specialize in the treatment of diseases and conditions of the ears, nose and throat. 
  • Pediatric otolaryngologists (pediatric ENTs) specialize in the treatment of diseases and conditions of the ears, nose and throat in infants, children and adolescents.
  • Pediatric surgeons specialize in surgery for infants, children and adolescents.

How is an adenoidectomy performed?

An adenoidectomy is usually an outpatient procedure done in a hospital or surgical clinic setting. Some children may need to stay overnight in the hospital for observation. 

Your surgeon will prop open your child’s mouth and remove or cauterizing the adenoids through the mouth. Cauterizing is sealing blood vessels or tissues with heat. Your surgeon will cauterize the remaining blood vessels to reduce bleeding.

Types of anesthesia that may be used

Your surgeon will perform an adenoidectomy using general anesthesia. General anesthesia is a combination of intravenous (IV) medications and gases that put your child in a deep sleep. Your child will be unaware of the procedure and not feel pain. 

What to expect the day of your child’s adenoidectomy

The day of surgery, you can expect to:

  • Talk with a preoperative nurse. The nurse will perform an exam of your child and ensure that all needed tests are in order. The nurse can also answer questions and make sure you understand and sign the surgical consent form.
  • Remove all of your child’s clothing and jewelry and dress in a hospital gown. It is a good idea to leave all jewelry and valuables at home. Your care team will give your child blankets for modesty and warmth.
  • Talk with the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist about your child’s medical history and the type of anesthesia used
  • A surgical team member will start an IV. 
  • The anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will start your child’s anesthesia.
  • The surgical team will monitor your child’s vital signs and critical body functions. This occurs throughout the procedure and recovery until your child is alert, breathing effectively, and all vital signs are stable.