What are tonsils?

Tonsils are fleshy masses of lymphatic tissue found in the throat, or pharynx. There are four different types of tonsils: palatine, pharyngeal (commonly referred to as the adenoid), lingual and tubal.1 Together these four types of tonsils make up what is called Waldeyer’s ring.1 Each type of tonsil is located in a different part of the throat and, when healthy, the tonsils produce antibodies to battle bacteria that enter through the mouth and nose. When we use the term ‘tonsils’ we are typically referring to the palatine tonsils.1 Humans have two palatine tonsils located at the back of the throat, one on either side of the uvula.2 Each palatine tonsil is composed of 6 to 20 crypts, or pits, which help to increase surface area and trap germs.1

What are adenoids?

The pharyngeal tonsils are commonly referred to as adenoids and make up the majority of lymphatic tissue within Waldeyer’s ring.3 Adenoids are positioned high in the throat behind the nose and the roof of the mouth and cannot be seen without special tools.2 Doctors will usually use a dental mirror and light to locate the adenoids. Adenoids grow from birth through the first 6 or 7 years of life and begin to shrink by adolescence.3


  1. Golla S. Tonsillectomy. In: Myers E, ed. Operative Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:169-181.
  2. American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.Tonsils and Adenoids: Patient Health Information. http://www.entnet.org/content/tonsils-and-adenoids Updated January 2015. Accessed January, 2016.
  3. Golla S. Adenoidectomy. In: Myers E, ed. Operative Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:33-37.