Adenoid vegetations (“polyps”) belong to the immune system of the human body. While they are often the reason for surgery, their main function is actually to protect us from disease. In this article, we explain what exactly they are and what their purpose is.
Adenoid vegetations are part of the human immune system. This means that their function is to protect the body against any microorganisms or substances that want to penetrate from the outside.
This immune tissue is located behind the nose, in the roof of the airways, so to speak, and extends over the neck to the chest. Together with the tonsils, it forms a ring that separates the area of the oral and nasal cavities from the throat.
Adenoid vegetations are most active in childhood. Their function is extremely active up to the age of five. From this age onwards, they begin to shrink until they usually disappear completely during puberty. This is because the human body has other, more efficient ways to defend itself at this point.
As we mentioned earlier, adenoid vegetations are known to require surgery in certain cases. If an operation is necessary, it is called adenoid hypertrophy.
Adenoid hypertrophy describes an enlargement of the immune tissue located there. This enlargement leads to undesirable symptoms in those affected and prevents the tissue from fulfilling its actual function. Adenoid hypertrophy usually occurs between the ages of three and six years.
Children who suffer from this tend to have some of the following symptoms:
- Mouth breathing: When the nasal passage is blocked, the air flows in through the mouth.
- Dry mouth: Because the air enters through the mouth, the oral cavity becomes dry. This is because the mouth is not prepared to breathe.
- Nasal voice: The blockage creates changes in the soundboard that gives the voice its sound. Therefore, children with hypertrophy often have a different voice with a characteristic sound.
- Snoring: As a rule, affected children snore at night. But they can also make an intense noise when they breathe when they are awake, as if they were snoring during the day.
- Halitosis (bad breath): Breathing through the mouth, which dries out the mouth, in turn leads to bad breath, even with good hygiene. Certain bacteria thrive best in a dry environment.
- Repeated infections: Perhaps the most common sign of adenoid hypertrophy is when a child has repeated infections of the ears, nose, and throat. More than eight or nine cases of sore throat, otitis media, or sinus infections each year require testing to rule out hypertrophy.
Adenoid vegetations: when is an operation necessary?
Usually polyps shouldn’t be removed. It is a physiological tissue of the human body and it has a specific function, especially in children. In fact, not all experts agree on the benefits of surgery.
If removal is necessary, it is usually done along with a tonsillectomy – the removal of the tonsils. To date, these are the most common pediatric surgeries.
It is generally accepted that children need surgery if:
- The breathing difficulties are persistent and affect your physical performance, be it in sports or in activities of daily living.
- Breathing difficulties occur during sleep and cause apneas, i.e. brief pauses in breathing.
- The infections occur more frequently in childhood and so further complications could arise. For example, retarded growth, hearing loss, or learning problems.
Adenoid vegetations in adults
From the age of five until puberty, the polyps go through an atrophy process. In most cases, they will gradually shrink and eventually go away. The body no longer needs them as much as it did in childhood and therefore breaks them down naturally.
Their disappearance is not a great loss. On the contrary, the atrophy indicates that the body was able to develop and develop other means of defense against external influences. The persistence of the adenoid vegetation in adulthood, however, poses a problem.
Adults with inflamed polyps may have obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. These are nocturnal episodes during which you cannot breathe for a few seconds while you sleep. This is a complicated situation associated with high blood pressure and increased heart risk.
Like children, adults with such inflammation may need surgery to improve their breathing and reduce episodes of nighttime apnea. While this may not completely correct the syndrome, it does reduce the possibility of a heart prolapse.