Is tonsillectomy the answer?

Is tonsillectomy the answer?

Frequent inflammation of the tonsils can create a wide range of problems in children. From chronic ear infections and sore throats to sleeping and breathing conditions, these issues often lead to tonsillectomy. A new study found that removal may lead to other health problems, however.

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery (AAO), tonsils are the body’s first line of immune defense. These clusters of tissue fight infection by producing antibodies after “sampling” bacteria and viruses that enter through the nose and throat. But sometimes, they can become infected.

When frequent infection occurs, doctors often recommend removal. This can be risky, says the AAO, because surgery can compromise children’s already sensitive immune systems.

A recent study published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery involving 60,000 children who had their tonsils and/or adenoids removed before age 10 found that diseases of the upper respiratory tract increased by nearly three times after surgery. These included asthma and pneumonia.

Dr. Will Noyes, ear, nose and throat specialist at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill., says although tonsils are part of the immune system, the body can make up for the lost tissue, and tonsillectomy should not threaten immune health in the long run. He says surgery is likely the best option for those who suffer from frequent infection, sleep problems or diseased tonsils.

“You should be informed of serious risks beforehand, however, such as bleeding, which should be communicated to your doctor immediately,” Dr. Noyes adds.

If you and your doctor decide it is best to go forth with surgery, here are some ways you can prepare, according to the AAO:

  • Talk with your doctor to weigh the risks of surgery.
  • Inform your doctor about family and personal medical history, including bleeding disorders or problems with clotting or anesthesia.
  • Schedule an appointment with your child’s primary care physician to see if he or she has a greater risk for developing infections post-surgery. A blood test may be required.
  • Ask how your child can work to strengthen his or her immune system in the weeks prior.

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About the Author

Lauryn Oleson
Lauryn Oleson

Lauryn Oleson is a public affairs intern at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. She studies public relations with a focus in psychology at Illinois State University. As a Bloomington native, Lauryn grew to love health and wellness by learning from her mom, Carolyn, who is a registered nurse at BroMenn. Lauryn enjoys playing sports, spending time with friends and volunteering for Young Hearts for Life. She hopes to continue her career in PR and health care in the future.