Enlarged tonsils and adenoids are common problems for kids to experience. Most GPs will rarely give solutions for the problem other than surgical removal. In fact, removing the tonsils is now the most common elective surgery for children. But simply removing the tonsils and adenoids doesn’t fix the underlying problem.
Inflamed tonsils and adenoids can also have some long-term health implications. The good news is that there are steps you can take to relieve enlarged tonsils and adenoids naturally.
Watch the video or keep reading below to learn more about managing enlarged tonsils and adenoids naturally.
What are the tonsils and adenoids?
The tonsils and adenoids are a type of lymphoid tissue. Lymphoid tissue is part of the lymphatic system. The tonsils are located in the back of the throat, and adenoids in the roof of the mouth.
These structures aren’t just there for no reason. Both play a role in supporting the immune system. The tonsils produce white blood cells and antibodies to fight infections. The adenoids also help to fight off infections and maintain a strong immune system.
Both the tonsils and adenoids reduce in size post-puberty. This suggests that they play a more important role in childhood, when a child’s immune system is still developing.
But the size can be a problem for kids because of their location. Swollen tonsils and adenoids can impair the function of the mouth, throat and nose.
What issues can be linked to enlarged tonsils and adenoids?
When the tonsils and adenoids become enlarged and inflamed, a few problems can arise. These include:
- Increased risk of infections – including ear infections, glue ear, sore throats and tonsillitis
- Sleep issues – ranging from snoring to sleep apnoea, grinding teeth, sleep-talking, sleep-walking or a generally restless sleep
- Speech delay
- Problems with learning, concentration and behaviour – in fact, kids with ADHD are more likely to have enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Some even suggest that some kids don’t have ADHD, but that their behaviour is because of their lack of restful sleep
- Fussy eating – due to the problems swallowing and chewing, this can cause texture preferences, poor chewing and related sensory issues
What causes enlarged tonsils or adenoids?
Put simply, there is one root cause of swollen tonsils and adenoids – inflammation. So we want to be looking at why your child has inflammation in the first place.
Some people say that it’s genetic, and that large tonsils ‘run in the family’. Although that might be true, it’s likely due to the family’s ability to process certain food or environmental triggers. It also doesn’t mean that surgery is the only option for correcting the problem.
There are two main factors that I see leading to inflammation in kids.
When this occurs, the immune system becomes confused and overreacts to usually harmless things. This includes allergies, intolerances and sensitivities to foods as well as environmental triggers.
When I see kids with ongoing tonsil and adenoid issues, they nearly always have other symptoms of immune dysfunction. This includes digestive symptoms, ear infections, asthma, eczema and food allergies or intolerances.
Studies have confirmed that there is a link between allergies and enlarged tonsils.
Intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut)
Leaky gut is when there are gaps in the gut lining. These gaps allow food molecules to leak into the bloodstream before they are broken down. The molecules circulate, and the immune system responds by producing inflammatory compounds.
Because it circulates in the bloodstream, this can cause inflammation anywhere in the body – including tonsils, ears, lungs and skin. This is why leaky gut is a big factor in any inflammatory or allergy-related condition.
Can’t we just remove the tonsils and adenoids to fix it?
So why can’t we just remove them surgically? Doesn’t this fix the problem?
In some cases, removing the tonsils and adenoids can be positively life-changing. A child can sleep better, so their behaviour and concentration improve markedly. So surgery can be warranted in some cases.
But we do want to exhaust all other options first!
Why, you ask? There are two reasons to opt for natural measures first.
First, there are health implications when you remove the tonsils and adenoids. One study with nearly 1.2 million children looked at the effects of removal on long-term health. It found that children who had tonsils and/or adenoids removed had a significantly higher risk of respiratory, infectious and allergic disease over the following years.
This is not surprising, given that they both play a role in immunity. So removing it may reduce immune function to some degree.
But the second reason is that removing the tonsils and adenoids don’t address the root cause – inflammation. Inflammation can leave kids prone to infections and allergies. So surgery is a bandaid solution, as it doesn’t reduce inflammation.
If you have already opted for surgery, there’s no need to panic. You can still focus on reducing inflammation to correct the underlying cause.
How to treat enlarged tonsils and adenoids naturally
There are three main steps I consider when working with swollen tonsils and adenoids.
Determine the cause of inflammation
If you don’t know the cause, you can’t address it! It’s best to work with a qualified practitioner who can help you with this.
If you know your child has allergies or intolerances, start by removing those. If you’re not sure and you’d like to start on your own, try a dairy-free diet for 6 weeks and see how they go. In my clinical experience, dairy is one of the most common contributors to inflammation, including in the tonsils and adenoids.
Build immune tolerance
Often people go crazy with restrictive diets, and end up not able to eat anything much at all. That’s why an essential step in any elimination diet is building tolerance. By building up the immune system, you can help your child to tolerate a variety of food and environmental substances without it leading to inflammation.
There are a few things you can do to build up tolerance. One essential step is to balance the gut bacteria – I discuss this in my Kids Gut Health ebook, which you can download for free here.
Vitamin D is another one to look at. At this time of year, it can be tricky to get enough sun exposure to optimise vitamin D levels. For tips on how to ensure your child gets enough vitamin D, see my previous article here.
There are some herbs that can also be effective for building tolerance. A naturopath can help guide you with the right options for your child.
Heal the gut
Finally, we want to heal the gut to reduce any inflammation occurring there. That means we want to reduce foods that can cause inflammation – dairy and gluten are the most common inflammatory foods. Not everyone will need to remove these food groups, so it’s best to seek professional help.
But we also want to incorporate things that support the healing process. Bone broth and gelatin can help to soothe and heal the gut lining.
Zinc is important for immune and gut health. Another beneficial nutrient for the gut lining is glutamine. These nutrients can be found in the diet, but if your child’s gut is impaired, a practitioner can offer them in supplement form to boost their levels up.
For more gut healing tips, download the free Kids Gut Health ebook here.
Other supportive therapies to try
There are other modalities that may be able to help with the tonsils and adenoids.
Orofacial myotherapy is relatively unknown – there is only one here in Adelaide. This therapy is all about establishing correct oral function and encourage breathing through the nose. Enlarged tonsils can cause kids to become mouth breathers, which in turn can increase inflammation. Mouth breathing can also be problematic for sleep issues as well.
Cranio-sacral therapy is another therapy to try. This is a gentle form of bodywork that aims to relieve compression in the head, neck and back.
Do you want to uncover the underlying cause of your child’s enlarged tonsils or adenoids? Book an appointment with one of our friendly naturopaths here.