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What to expect from an adenoidectomy

We get expert advice on an adenoidectomy

A doctor with dark hair wearing white scrubs and taking notes at his desk on his patient's upcoming adenoidectomy
A doctor with dark hair wearing white scrubs and taking notes at his desk on his patient's upcoming adenoidectomy

If you’ve been told that you or a loved one need an adenoidectomy, it’s likely you have a fair few questions, from what happens during the procedure to how long it will take to recover.

At nib, we consider ourselves your health partner. Here to help when it comes to understanding the complexities of navigating the hospital system as well as breaking down what might be involved in treatment and recovery. And while your healthcare provider is always the best person to provide you personalised information, we’ve answered some of the biggest questions you might have about what to expect from an adenoidectomy.

What is an adenoidectomy?
What are the adenoids?
Why would someone need an adenoidectomy?
What are the symptoms of enlarged adenoids?
What are the benefits of an adenoidectomy?
What are the risks of an adenoidectomy?
Preparing for an adenoidectomy
Other FAQs

What is an adenoidectomy? 

An adenoidectomy is a procedure where the adenoids (small lumps of soft tissue situated at the back of the nose) are removed.

The surgery is usually short and safe. An adenoidectomy is performed under a general anaesthetic and usually takes around 30 minutes to complete. A soft plastic tube is inserted into a patient’s windpipe to assist in breathing, and a surgeon will remove the adenoid tissue using a heated instrument.

It can be common for a patient’s adenoids to be removed at the same time as their tonsils if they’re causing issues such as difficulty breathing or obstructive sleep apnoea.

Related: How to prepare your child for surgery

What are the adenoids?

The adenoids are lumps of tissue located at the back of the inside of the nose and at the top of the throat. During breathing, the adenoids help to keep your body healthy by filtering air and producing antibodies to destroy infectious bacteria, viruses and allergens as part of the immune system.  

Everyone is born with adenoids, but as the immune system develops, they start to shrink (typically when a child reaches five to eight years of age).

For most people, the adenoids become small or disappear entirely when they’re a teenager. As a result, an adenoidectomy is typically only performed on young children.

Why would someone need an adenoidectomy? 

The main reason for having an adenoidectomy is enlarged adenoids. If one or more of the following problems are occurring, the surgery may be beneficial: 

  • Snoring or sleep apnoea

  • Recurring ear infections 

  • A build-up of fluid in the ear

  • Repeated infection of the adenoids

  • Excessive sleepiness during the daytime

What are the symptoms of enlarged adenoids?

Some of the most common symptoms of enlarged adenoids include: 

  • difficulty breathing through the nose

  • breathing through the mouth (often leading to dry lips and mouth)

  • bad breath

  • snoring

  • nasal-sounding speech

  • nose or sinus infection

  • ear infection

  • sleep disturbances including obstructive sleep apnoea (where the person stops breathing for a few seconds during their sleep).

Related: Going to hospital? Here's why you should contact nib first.

What is the cause of enlarged adenoids?

As the role of adenoids is to filter air and destroy harmful bacteria and viruses, from time to time they can become swollen. Certain food, pollen and allergens can also cause the adenoids to swell. 

When the adenoids are enlarged, airflow is reduced through the nose. The swelling will sometimes reduce on its own, however, sometimes adenoids can become infected (called adenoiditis).

An 8-year old girl in hospital getting ready for surgery wearing scrubs with strawberries on it

What are the benefits of an adenoidectomy?

The main benefits of an adenoidectomy include that the procedure can help to:     

  • Reduce future ear infections

  • Resolve obstructive sleep apnoea       

  • Improve emotional behaviour problems in children     

  • Relieve nasal obstruction and chronic ear infection/inflammation      

  • Reduce allergic and nonallergic sinuses and blockage of nasal passages in chronic nasal problems.

What are the risks of an adenoidectomy? 

While the risks associated with an adenoidectomy are minor, it is still important to know what they are. These include:

  • Pain in the throat and nasal passage

  • Bleeding, especially after the surgery

  • Problems with anaesthesia  

  • Potential infection if proper precaution isn’t taken after surgery.

How can you prepare for an adenoidectomy?

Here are a few steps you or your child can take to prepare for an adenoidectomy.

Related: How do I know if I’m covered for a procedure?

Other FAQs

What does recovery look like?

It can take around an hour to recover from the general anaesthetic after an adenoidectomy. Your or your child will be encouraged to eat or drink something light and, in most cases, will be able to go home the same day you had your surgery. A sore throat can be expected for a day or two following the procedure. You might also experience a blocked or smelly nose and a light, blood-stained discharge for a few days following the procedure (in some instances, up to a few weeks).

Can I go home the same day after surgery?

Yes. The average length of stay in a public or private hospital after surgery is a few hours. Children and adults in some situations may need to stay overnight. Usually the child may go back to school 3 – 5 days after surgery.

Adults should avoid driving a vehicle for 24 hours after surgery and take 4 days off from activities, work and sport.

How long does an adenoidectomy take?

The procedure generally takes between 45 minutes and one hour, including anaesthetic, the operation and time in recovery.

Will I be placed under general anesthesia?

For both children and adults, an adenoidectomy is performed under general anaesthesia.

Will I be given any medications for pain management?

We recommend discussing pain relief options with your health practitioner. Paracetamol is generally the main choice.

What should I eat or drink after an adenoidectomy?

Rehydrating after surgery is important especially within the first three days. Cool drinks will reduce swelling of the surgical area in the throat and help with pain relief. Try to avoid eating or drinking anything hot, difficult to swallow or spicy.

Are you or your child heading to hospital soon?

If you’re with nib, make sure you check out our Going to hospital page. This tool gives you information on health insurance, tips on how to reduce any out-of-pocket expenses and helpful questions to ask your specialist. To find out the details of your current policy, chat to someone about an upcoming hospital visit or get some guidance, please call us on 13 16 42.

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.