An adenoidectomy is an operation to remove enlarged adenoids.
Adenoids are small lumps of tissue at the back of the throat behind the nose. They're part of the immune system and help fight infection.
Why an adenoidectomy is done
An adenoidectomy is mainly done in children to help with problems caused by enlarged adenoids.
These problems can cause pain or partially block the airway. They include:
- difficulty breathing through the nose, which can cause mouth breathing or snoring
- sleep apnoea, where breathing stops and starts during sleep
- glue ear, an infection in the middle ear which can cause hearing problems
- frequent ear infections
The adenoids usually start to shrink around the age of 4 and disappear by early adulthood.
Your doctor might suggest waiting to see if these problems get better by themselves rather than having an adenoidectomy, depending on how serious the problems are.
An adenoidectomy may be done in adults who have these problems, but this is not common.
What happens during an adenoidectomy
Your child will not be able to eat or drink for some time before having an adenoidectomy. The hospital will give you information about this.
The operation is usually done as a day case. This means your child should be able to go home on the same day once they're well enough.
It's done under general anaesthetic, so they'll be asleep during the operation and will not feel any pain. It usually takes about 30 minutes.
The surgeon removes the adenoids through the mouth. They will either be carefully cut out or removed using special tools that apply heat or radio frequency energy.
Dissolvable stitches may be used to stop any bleeding.
The process is the same for adults having an adenoidectomy.
An adenoidectomy may be done at the same time as a tonsil removal (adenotonsillectomy) or surgery to put a small tube in the ear to drain fluid (grommet surgery).
After the operation
Your child will spend some time in the recovery room and have medicine to help with pain and swelling.
After the operation they may:
- feel sick
- have a blocked nose
- have a sore throat and sore ears
- have a temporary change to their voice – it may sound like they are talking through their nose
- have bad breath
Recovering from an adenoidectomy
It usually takes about a week to recover from an adenoidectomy. There are things you can do to help your child recover afterwards.
keep them off school or nursery for about a week to rest
try to avoid being around other people, to reduce the chance of them getting an infection
encourage them to eat their usual foods as soon as possible to help their throat heal
make sure they drink lots of fluids
Never give aspirin to children under 16, unless their doctor prescribes it.
Possible complications of an adenoidectomy
An adenoidectomy is a common and straightforward procedure.
Complications are rare but can include:
- bleeding in the throat after the operation, which may need a second operation to stop it
- damage to the teeth – the surgeon might chip or knock a tooth, especially if they're already loose or capped (let the hospital know if your child has any teeth like this)
- infection where the adenoids were removed – antibiotics can help with this
- problems breathing because of swelling in the throat
- changes to the voice, but it should go back to normal after a few weeks
- breathing problems or infections still happening after the operation
- the adenoids growing back, but this is not common
Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:
Your child has recently had an adenoidectomy and they:
- are in a lot of pain that does not get better with pain relief or is getting worse
- have a high temperature
- have a painful or stiff neck
- are not drinking fluids
You can call 111 or get help from 111 online. Call 111 to speak to someone if you need to get help for a child under 5.
Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E if:
Your child has recently had an adenoidectomy and they have:
- any bleeding from their throat or nose
- blood in their sick, or black or brown sick
Page last reviewed: 10 March 2023
Next review due: 10 March 2026