The tonsils are paired tissue in the back of the throat and are part of the immune system. The function is to help identify and fight infections caused by viruses or bacteria. Although they can be beneficial, they can cause problems if they are enlarged or become infected.
When the tonsils are enlarged, they can cause a variety of symptoms. Sometimes they cause no problems at all. In other cases, they can cause or contribute to snoring and sleep problems. Common problems are partial airway obstruction during sleep that results in restless sleep, frequent awakening from sleep or even sleep apnea. In some cases, they can also cause trouble swallowing foods due to obstruction.
Your doctor or ENT surgeon can visualize the tonsils directly by having your child open his or her mouth widely. Sometimes a tongue depressor must be used to see the area fully. If the symptoms are unclear, your doctor may recommend a sleep study to better determine how severe sleep problems are.
If the tonsils are enlarged but are not causing symptoms, often no treatment is recommended. This is because as your child gets older, most of the time enlarged tonsils will become smaller and smaller. If the tonsils are causing problems with sleep, your ENT surgeon may recommend tonsillectomy. This is needed for patients who have Obstructive Sleep Apnea with enlarged tonsils. If your child is having disturbed sleep that results in problems with sleepiness or behavior in the daytime, tonsillectomy may also be recommended. Commonly, when the tonsils are enlarged, the adenoids are also enlarged and will be removed (called an adenoidectomy) during the same surgery.
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