Over the past few years, I’ve learned so much about the connection between tonsils, adenoids, and sleep. I am amazed at how many different behaviors are all linked to these tissues being enlarged. Since this is a topic that’s currently hitting close to home, I wanted to write a post to share what we’ve learned.
But first a disclaimer. I am not a doctor. I have never been a doctor, or to any medical classes. Do not take this blog post as medical advice. It is merely a personal reflection of my family’s experience.
Owen started our family’s experience with tonsils and adenoids. When he was young, he kept aspirating. He wound up with aspiration pneumonia several times in his first couple of years of life.
As a part of this process, he went to the ENT. They recommended taking out his tonsils and adenoids, so he’d have more room to deal with the food and liquid. So, shortly before his third birthday, he had surgery and got those removed. It was a terrible ordeal. He also got ear tubes at the same time, and when they removed the breathing tube at the end of surgery, nasty infected liquid from his ears drained into his lungs.
He spent a long time in the PICU and we weren’t sure he was going to make it. Thankfully he did! But, it really left a negative impression in my mind about this surgery. (On a side note, Owen has many complex medical needs and is not a typical child. You can learn more about him in the series that starts here: Owen’s Story Part 1.)
After he recovered, something strange happened. He began to tolerate feeds. And, he quickly grew out of his need for a thickened diet. Within a year, we were no longer using the g-tube for his primary source of food.
Fast forward a few years…
Not Sleeping Well
Back in 2017, one of our daughters was having a hard time sleeping. She struggled to stay asleep, and kept tossing and turning all night long. When she did fall asleep, she snored. And she struggled with wetting the bed, even though she was old enough that it shouldn’t have been an issue.
Eventually the sleep got bad enough that I brought it up to the doctor. He recommended taking her into the ENT. There, we learned that her tonsils were rather large. This doctor took the time to explain the connection between the airway and sleep.
If you can’t breathe, your body won’t let you stay asleep. It wakes you up, so you can roll over and get some air. Then, when you fall back asleep, you stop being able to breathe easily, so you roll again. All night long…
She’d sleep, but wake up utterly exhausted.
So, the doctor recommended she get her tonsils and adenoids out. Hesitantly, I agreed. But, I couldn’t shake the memory of Owen’s surgery and worried a ton about her upcoming one.
Thankfully, it was a quick, outpatient procedure. She was up and eating popsicles as soon as the anesthesia wore off. And she wanted to stop and get a hot dog to eat on the way home.
The difference in her sleep and attitude began immediately. And, she only wet the bed once in the two week recovery period. After frequent bed wetting episodes each week, this was shocking.
Since she’s recovered, this child has not once wet the bed. A problem she struggled with for years went away.
She’s been sleeping. And in a much better disposition.
A few months later, one of my other children needed to go to the ENT to get her nose cauterized for frequent nosebleeds. We went to the same doctor. While there, he noticed that her tonsils were very large and started asking about her sleep.
This child was a snorer. She could bring the house down.
And, she frequently woke up super early and had trouble falling asleep.
The doctor recommended surgery, and we got it scheduled. Her first night at home was so quiet, I had to keep going in to check on her. No snoring. It just stopped completely.
She sleeps way more now, and has more energy during the day. It is amazing.
This past spring, I was chatting with the kids’ primary care doctor about one of my other daughters. She also wet the bed to an extended age. And, she snored.
The doctor referred us to ENT. The appointment got delayed a bit because of Covid, but once we finally made it in, it was fascinating to talk with this doctor. It was a different one than the doctor who’d done the previous two kids.
She noted that this child’s tonsils were nearly touching in her throat. As we chatted about this child’s food preferences, I was amazed at how much sense it made. The doctor explained that when your tonsils are that large, there’s just no room for large chunks of food to pass. And no matter how much you chew something like steak, there’s still a large chunk to get down. This child was instinctively protecting her airway by not wanting to eat meat and other harder to chew foods.
So, after our summer in Missouri, we got surgery scheduled. Since the surgery, this child has not wet the bed. She hasn’t snored. And, she is speaking better. Her adenoids were so large that they were impacting her ability to speak clearly. The pressure is gone now, and she has enough space in her mouth and nose to breathe while pronouncing the words. It’s incredible.
The majority of my kids have had trouble sleeping. They don’t sleep through the night until they’re nearly two. And they much prefer sleeping like an ostrich, with their butts up in the air and their faces buried.
Until I started learning more about sleep disturbances, I honestly didn’t think much about this. It was just what they did.
So now, I have the information I need to adequately raise my concerns with the doctors. One of my sons recently had his well child check. There, I discussed his sleep and asked for an ENT referral based on what I’ve seen with the other kids. They agreed and referred him.
When we got to the appointment, I learned even more.
You see, this child doesn’t have huge tonsils. They’re medium but not super large. However, his adenoids are huge. This is causing his problems at night, as he simply can’t breathe in bed like most kids can. He often wakes in the night and heads out to the couch, where he can sleep propped up.
And he’s constantly exhausted during the day. He falls asleep easily in the car and takes a long time to get moving in the morning.
Then, the doctor pointed to his face shape and how it’s fairly long between the nose and chin. She said this is very common in kids who have enlarged adenoids, because there’s just not room for them and something has to give. The doctor mentioned that dentist often refer kids, because enlarged tissues cause palette problems and lots of orthodontia issues.
So, we’re getting surgery scheduled in the coming weeks. She thinks he’s young enough that his face and palette will go back to normal and his permanent teeth will come in fine. But, only time will tell. We’ll certainly be praying that that is the case.
He’ll be my fifth child to get it done. And, I honestly don’t believe he’ll be the last based on symptoms we’re seeing in the other kids. The doctor said that this is often genetic – enlarged tissues are common in families.
So Much Better
It has been amazing to see the transformation in each of my kids who have had this surgery. They sleep better. They have more energy during the day. Snores no longer shake the house. And we aren’t dealing with wet sheets on a regular basis.
There’s better speech, better behavior, and happier kids.
So even though our journey with adenoids and tonsils didn’t start on a pleasant note, it sure has improved life along the way.