Should My Child Have Their Tonsils Removed?

Children frequently suffer from tonsillitis, the inflammation of two pads of tissue at the sides of the back of the mouth. The tonsils are one of the first steps in immune system control, a place where bacteria and viruses accumulate. 

Since tonsillitis rarely affects adults, it’s thought that tonsils play a role in immune system development. 

In the past, however, tonsil removal was quite common even when a child had comparatively few infections. Today, tonsillectomy is limited to unusual cases where infections are excessive.

What’s right for your child? That decision is between you and your child’s otolaryngologist. The professionals at Lakeshore Ear, Nose and Throat Center are pediatric ENT specialists, and they can advise you on this important decision. 

Two reasons for tonsillectomy

Every case for tonsil removal is unique, with circumstances that may affect only your child, so it’s not always a simple decision. There are, though, two common reasons that point toward tonsil removal. 

Airway obstruction

The tonsils and adenoids sit at a location in the throat where the airway narrows. When tissue becomes inflamed during periods of infection, the resulting swelling can make breathing difficult. This can cause obstructive sleep apnea, which robs your child of the deep stages of sleep that are vital to their health and growth. 

When tonsil swelling is excessive and easy to see, the decision for tonsillectomy is similarly easy. However, that’s not usually the case, and sometimes sleep testing is needed to confirm that sleep apnea does occur. There are other treatments for sleep apnea too, so the pros and cons of all solutions must be balanced. 

Frequent infections

Recurring infection of the tonsils and adenoids was once the most common reason for surgery. Later, research began to show that children who keep these tissues began to experience fewer infections overall, just as those who had tonsillectomies. The net result is that surgery often makes little difference. 

The exception comes when infections are very frequent. This is usually defined as: 

  • Seven or more infections in one year
  • Five infections per year in two consecutive years
  • Three infections per year over three consecutive years

When a child has throat infections at this rate, tonsillectomy could reduce the overall number of infections they will experience. Tonsillitis is not the only source of sore throats, though, so other signs and symptoms like positive streptococcus cultures and swollen lymph nodes are used to back up the recommendation for surgery. 

Potential for complications

As with any surgery, there are risks associated with tonsillectomy. The most common are continued bleeding and breathing difficulties. The potential for complications must be balanced against the chances for reduced infections. Your child’s disposition during tonsillitis episodes may also be a factor in your decision. 

Tonsil removal is not a cure-all that eliminates future infections, nor is it a procedure without inherent risks. 

Visiting the nearest location of Lakeshore Ear, Nose and Throat Center is the smart way to start your decision-making process. Contact the most convenient office by phone or online to book an exam for your child the next time a throat infection develops.