Adenoiditis is an inflammation of the adenoids in the throat. Symptoms may include a runny or stuffy nose, mouth breathing, bad breath, and fever.

Adenoids are an area of tissue that sits high in the throat, behind the nose. Adenoids help to protect the body from infection during childhood and adolescence.

Adenoiditis is an inflammation of the adenoids, which may occur due to infection, allergies, or stomach acid reflux.

This article looks at symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment options, and the outlook for people with adenoiditis.

A child having a throat checkup for adenoiditis.Share on Pinterest
FreshSplash/Getty Images

Adenoiditis is an inflammation of the adenoids. The adenoids are an area of tissue in the throat behind the nose. The adenoids form part of the lymphatic system, which helps to clear infections.

The adenoids and the tonsils catch germs that enter through the nose and mouth. They create immune cells, which produce antibodies and kill pathogens, preventing them from traveling further into the body

After the age of five, the adenoids begin to shrink. By adolescence, the adenoids almost disappear entirely, as by this time, the body has developed other methods of fighting germs and infection.

Adenoiditis may occur due to an infection, allergies, or stomach acid that irritates the adenoids.

Adenoiditis rarely occurs on its own and usually exists alongside other conditions, such as:

  • adenotonsillitis, an inflammation of the adenoids and tonsils
  • pharyngitis, an inflammation of the throat
  • rhinosinusitis, an inflammation of the nasal cavity and sinuses
  • laryngopharyngeal reflux, in which stomach acid travels back up the esophagus to the throat

Symptoms of adenoiditis may include:

Adenoiditis is most common in children and adolescents, as the adenoids are usually nonexistent in adults. If people have chronic adenoiditis, symptoms persist for at least 90 days.

Various germs can cause adenoiditis, which commonly occurs after an upper respiratory tract infection from a virus. The most common infections that cause adenoiditis include:

  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Haemophilus influenza
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Streptococcus pyogenes

Chronic adenoiditis may occur due to a combination of germs, including fungi, viruses, and bacteria.

Allergies may also contribute to adenoiditis. If people inhale allergens through the nose, these can reach the adenoid tissue and cause inflammation.

Stomach acid through gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may also cause adenoiditis, especially in young children and infants.

Risk factors for adenoiditis include:

  • being a child or adolescent
  • parental smoking
  • viral upper respiratory tract infection

Daycare and pacifier use increase exposure to viruses and bacteria and the risk of infections.

No evidence suggests sex, race, socioeconomic class, or region play a role in adenoiditis risk.

To diagnose adenoiditis, a doctor may carry out the following tests:

  • full medical history
  • physical examination of the neck, mouth, throat, and ears
  • using a mirror to examine the inside of the mouth and view the adenoids
  • using an endoscope, which is a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera on one end, to view the adenoids
  • imaging scans, such as an X-ray

Treatment for adenoiditis may depend on the underlying cause.

People may not require any treatment if a cold, viral infection, or upper respiratory tract infection causes adenoiditis. The condition can resolve by itself in 5–7 days.

If a bacterial infection causes adenoiditis, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics, such as:

If allergies cause adenoiditis, treatment may include one or a combination of the following:

If an acid reflux condition causes adenoiditis, treating the condition with diet and lifestyle changes and medication may be effective. Elevating the head during sleep can also help symptoms.

In some cases, people require an adenoidectomy, which is a surgical procedure to remove the adenoids. This may be necessary if:

  • a person has repeat infections affecting the adenoids, particularly if these are also causing ear infections
  • antibiotics are not effective at treating a bacterial infection
  • a person has enlarged adenoids that block the airways

People will usually be able to return home on the same day after having an adenoidectomy.

Temporary side effects of an adenoidectomy may include:

  • sore throat
  • runny nose
  • bad breath
  • nasal congestion

Recovery from an adenoidectomy may take several days.

If a person also has an issue with the tonsils, they may have a tonsillectomy, which is surgery to remove the tonsils.

Learn more about an adenoidectomy.

Adenoiditis commonly occurs due to infections, allergies, or irritation due to stomach acid reflux.

Managing conditions that cause acid reflux may help prevent adenoiditis. People can also take steps to manage allergies, such as:

  • avoiding known allergens and reducing exposure to triggers
  • using a nasal saline rinse to wash out the nose each day
  • using allergy medications to manage symptoms

Practicing good hygiene may help prevent infections, such as:

  • washing hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • avoiding touching the face with unwashed hands
  • avoiding sharing personal items, such as cups or bottles
  • covering the mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, or using a tissue and throwing it away after

If a bacterial infection causes adenoiditis, antibiotics may improve symptoms within 48–72 hours. In some cases, such as with a viral upper respiratory tract infection, symptoms may resolve without treatment.

Saline sprays and nasal rinses may help reduce symptom duration, as they help to get rid of the microorganisms causing infection, as well as excess mucus.

In most cases, treatment for adenoiditis is successful. For recurrent adenoiditis, surgery may be necessary to provide a permanent treatment.

Adenoiditis is inflammation of the adenoids, which sit in the throat behind the nose.

Infections, allergies, or irritation from stomach acid may all cause adenoiditis. Adenoiditis is more common in children and adolescents.

Treatment depends on the underlying cause. It may include treating a bacterial infection with antibiotics, treating allergies or reflux, or in some cases, surgery to remove the adenoids.