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Is Removing Tonsils in Childhood Impacting Future Health

Is Removing Tonsils in Childhood Impacting Future Health

What are tonsils and or adenoids?

Simply put, they are two small masses of tissue that are in the back of the throat.  Tonsils are similar to lymph nodes. They are easily seen in an exam, hanging in the back of your mouth.  

Tonsils are part of the infection fighting lymphatic system.  They help detect pathogens. Studies have various findings when deciding if removal will harm the body's ability to fight off infection.  A doctor may advise further evaluation if the patient repeatedly has enlarged tonsils.  

Why do so many people get a tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy?

Since the 1970’s, the number of tonsillectomies performed has decreased substantially.  According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, nearly 90% of the procedures were performed to stop recurring infectious diseases. (1) Today, that has dropped drastically to 20% with the remaining 80% being performed to alleviate obstructive sleep problems.  

Doctor Fisher, a Professor of Pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN wrote about a similar study.  Children that had their tonsils or adenoids removed did show to reduce throat infection and school absences.  However, that positive outcome was short-lived at only one year postoperative. (2)

It was originally thought that some recurring medical problems could be remedied by removing the tonsils.  Respiratory infections and other infectious diseases are two examples. There are various medical conditions that are associated with tonsils.  

  • Acute Tonsillitis

    • Tonsils may be swollen and coated in a white film.  A sore throat develops.
  • Acute Mononucleosis

    • Usually caused by what is commonly known as “mono”.  Symptoms include fatigue, fever, sore throat and severe swelling. 
  • Chronic Tonsillitis 

    • Recurring infections of the tonsils. 
  • Hypertrophic Tonsils 

    • This happens with the tonsils are enlarged to the point that the airway is compromised.  
  • Middle Ear Infections

    • A link was discovered between tonsillectomy and decreased middle ear infections 
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea

    • When the tonsils create a breathing problem during sleep.  
  • Peritonsillar Abscess

    • Requires urgent care.  This is a pocket of pus next to the tonsil on one side.  It forces the tonsils to the other side of the throat.  
  • Strep Throat

    • Also known as streptococcus.  Potentially very painful infection that can create great discomfort and pain.  Symptoms may include a sore throat, fever, sore neck or headaches. 
  • Tonsilloliths 

    • When debris is trapped it may calcify and create this condition. 

Could getting your tonsils removed increase risk of future health problems?

Research is fairly limited on the long term risks of removing tonsils.  It has long been thought to be a cure for the above issues. However, little effort was made to discover what the long term effects are after the removal.  

Tonsils are most often removed within the first nine years of life.  The immune system is not fully developed yet. Removal of the tonsils may compromise that development.  

JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery published a study that discovered a significant increase in allergic, infectious and respiratory diseases. (3) The research monitored 1.2 million patients that had their tonsils removed.  If the patient had the surgery by the time they were 9, then they were included in the study.  

The researchers found a 2 to 3 times increase in occurrence of respiratory diseases in patients that had the surgery.  There are many medical conditions that fall under the title or respiratory. It can range from small issues up to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  

Another study at Vanderbilt University concluded that short term reduction in school absences occurred.  Sadly that did not continue longer than a year postoperative. (4)  The decrease in streptococcal infections was limited in the first year and limited over time.  

Summary

Removing tonsils can be harmful but that is not always the case.  The benefits from a tonsillectomy may not be what we thought. Some parents are now choosing a watchful waiting period to see if their child can improve with alternative options.  Of course, always defer to the treating physician.  

The procedure is not new but the long term effect studies are still advancing.  It is smart to do some research on your own as well. When it comes to your health and that of your loved ones look for the best options for you.  Natural is ideal but there are times when other options are necessary.  

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Sources:

  1. www.entnet.org
  2. www.reliasmedica.com 
  3. www.ajmc.com 
  4. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov