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A to Z: Hypertrophy, Tonsillar (Enlarged Tonsils)

May also be called: Enlarged Tonsils

Tonsillar hypertrophy, or enlarged tonsils, can be caused by an ongoing (chronic) condition or be a temporary effect of an infection.

More to Know

Tonsils are small glands on either side of the back part of the throat. Their main job is to help stop bacteria from getting farther down the throat.

Enlarged tonsils can be an ongoing (chronic) condition or a temporary effect of an infection. Doctors aren’t sure what causes chronically enlarged tonsils, but secondhand tobacco smoke and air pollution can make them larger.

If the tonsils are very large, a person may snore or have trouble swallowing certain foods. Some people with enlarged tonsils have obstructive sleep apnea (pauses in breathing during sleep) because the tonsils partially block the airway. A test done overnight in the hospital — called a sleep study — can help determine if someone has sleep apnea by looking for these pauses.

Tonsils enlarged from an infection usually return to a normal size when the infection gets better. Chronically enlarged tonsils may also shrink as kids get older.

Keep in Mind

Enlarged tonsils are common. Treatment depends on the size of the tonsils and whether they interfere with eating, sleeping, or breathing. Most of the time treatment is not necessary. But sometimes, the doctor might recommend a medicine to shrink the tonsils or surgery to remove them (a tonsillectomy). Occasionally, someone with sleep apnea may need to wear a special mask at night that helps with breathing.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.