Did you know a tonsillectomy can help with sleep problems?
Have you ever wondered if you really need your tonsils?
“As far as the medical data shows, they don’t perform any function that we know of,” says Dr. Michael Friedman, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “They can cause obstruction, get infected, build debris and develop cancer, which is obviously all negative, but we don’t take everybody’s tonsils out because of the risks associated with surgery.”
A recent HealthDay article posed the idea that due to strict guidelines regarding when tonsils should be removed via a surgery called a tonsillectomy, some children who don’t qualify for the procedure are missing out on potential benefits that could improve their quality of life.
Dr. Friedman says tonsils are often removed when a child has three to eight strep throat infections per year for more than one year, but that there is a lot of gray area to consider.
“The parents and the physician will consider what the infections are like and discuss their preferences,” says Dr. Friedman. “As a parent, you don’t want to put your children through surgery if you don’t have to. On the other hand, you don’t want to deny your children medical care if they need it, and you want to maximize their quality of life. The parent ultimately has to make these decisions, and it can be very difficult. The parent who wants their child’s tonsils out is right, and the parent who doesn’t want their child’s tonsils out is right. There is no clear right or wrong answer.”
In addition to treating infection, a tonsillectomy can also help with sleep apnea.
“Sleep apnea is a condition where when we fall asleep, some of our breathing gets blocked off, and typically, there is snoring,” says Dr. Friedman. “Sleep apnea is often considered a problem for middle-aged, overweight men, but it’s quite common in children.”
While a tonsillectomy used to be performed almost solely to treat infections, now 80 percent of tonsillectomies are done to treat sleep problems, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.
“If adults have disturbed sleep, they’re tired and fall asleep easily while reading or watching television. When children are tired from disturbed sleep, they’re overactive and typically are misbehaving,” says Dr. Friedman. “Approximately 30 percent of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have sleep apnea, and taking out the tonsils and adenoids can improve their condition without medication. Sleep apnea in children can also cause bedwetting.”
To determine whether a child should undergo a tonsillectomy due to sleep apnea, a sleep study is often performed.
“It used to be very difficult for a child to have a sleep study, now it’s very simple,” says Dr. Friedman. “There’s no need for guessing if the child needs to have their tonsils out. The sleep study will tell us very precisely if there is a need or not.”
Dr. Friedman adds that you should consult a physician if:
- Your child has more than three strep throat infections per year for more than one year
- Your child snores heavily
- Your child snores mildly but also has trouble with bedwetting, ADHD or performance at school
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