Overview of Tonsillectomy & Adenoidectomy

Surgery to remove the tonsils is called tonsillectomy and surgery to remove the adenoid gland is called adenoidectomy. Tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy often are performed at the same time in a procedure called adenotonsillectomy. Tonsillectomy with or without adenoidectomy is one of the most common surgical procedures performed in children.

Anatomy of the Tonsils & Adenoids

The tonsils are lumps of tissue located in the back of the throat (the oropharynx). The adenoid, which also is sometimes referred to as the pharyngeal tonsil, is located in back of the nose, behind the roof of the mouth (the nasopharynx). The tonsils are visible through the mouth, on the sides of the throat, and the adenoid can only be seen through the mouth using special medical instruments.

The tonsils and adenoid are part of the immune system—a complex network of organs (e.g., spleen, bone marrow, thymus) and tissue that helps protect the body from disease, illness, and infection. The immune system includes the lymphatic system, which consists of lymphatic tissue, lymph nodes, and lymphatic vessels. The tonsils and adenoid are small masses of lymphatic tissue.

The lymphatic system produces, stores, and carries cells called antibodies (e.g., white blood cells) throughout the body via the bloodstream and the lymphatic vessels (in watery fluid called lymph). Antibodies identify, attack, and destroy disease-causing organisms (pathogens), such as viruses and bacteria. The lymphatic system also helps remove damaged cells from the body.

The tonsils and adenoid produce a type of white blood cells (leukocytes) called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are antibodies that help the body recognize and destroy invading pathogens.

In addition to producing lymphocytes, the tonsils and adenoid filter out disease-causing organisms (e.g., viruses, bacteria) from the throat or nose and help prevent them from entering the body. When invading organisms try to enter the body through the throat or nose, the tonsils or adenoid identify the pathogen and initiate an immune system response.

Incidence and Prevalence of Tonsillectomy & Adenoidectomy

Approximately 400,000 tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies are performed each year in the United States. More than 280,000 of these procedures are performed in children younger than 18 years of age.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 14 Sep 2015