Tonsils: Take ‘em or Leave ‘em

Tonsils: Take ‘em or Leave ‘em

Tonsillectomy used to be a routine rite of passage for children worldwide. Literally millions of kids would get their tonsils out each year in the United States alone. Oftentimes, if one child in the family was having their tonsils removed, the siblings would follow suit, often without a clear medical indication to do so, but as a prophylactic. Until recently, there were no well-designed guidelines to help parents and doctors decide who is a good candidate for this procedure. But times– and views of tonsillectomy– they are a’ changin’….

The American Academy of Otolaryngology (Ear, Nose, and Throat Surgery) recently published guidelines and recommendations with regard to which patients should have their tonsils removed, and who can hold off on the surgery and keep ‘em without adverse consequences.

So, if your child has had:

-more than seven tonsil infections in one year;

-more than five infections per year for two years;

-more than three infections per year for three years,

your tyke is a good candidate for tonsillectomy, as it will likely relieve the amount of infections they (and as a result you) suffer.

However… (hey, this is science, and we live by our caveats), there are exceptions. A sore throat is not the only ill effect irregular tonsils can have on a child.

The vast majority of the greater than 500,000 tonsillectomies performed annually in the U.S. are to treat children with ‘sleep-disordered breathing’. This group may not gripe about sore throats, but they do have tonsils large enough to affect their quality of sleep– and therefore their (and you/your family’s) quality of life, because for these tykes their tonsils are big enough so that they suffer from one or more of the following:

-loud snoring

-restless sleep

-frequent wakening at night

-sleepiness or ‘spaciness’ during the day

Some of these kids suffer from sleep apnea as a result of their sleep disturbances which are caused by tonsils big enough to affect how these children breathe when they sleep. If left untreated, this condition which causes lousy quality sleep can lead to poor school performance, growth delays, and generally make them an annoyance to themselves and other family members. In extreme–albeit rare–cases, this sleep apnea can lead to heart and lung problems.

How do you know if your child is at risk for tonsil trouble? Check in on him or her at varying times of the night for a couple of nights. If you hear snoring– and I dont mean the occasional ‘snort’ or ‘sniffle’, which is normal– but loud, ‘adult-like’ snoring, irregular breathing patterns, gasping, or pauses in breathing, and/or if your child appears to be overly restless when they’re sleeping, you should give your primary doctor a call, to see if they want to take a look at your child’s tonsils.

To see the published guidelines, check out: Tonsillectomy Guidelines



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