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Is removing your child’s tonsils a good idea?

Posted at 6:22 PM, Oct 21, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-21 21:17:03-04

star-sponsored-native The following article is sponsored by University of Utah Health Care

By Melinda Rogers, for University of Utah Health Care

It can seem like a revolving door at times —just when you think your child has kicked his or her latest bout with a sore throat, another round flares up, leaving you with an out-of-sorts little one who doesn’t have the usual energy for school and activities.

Accompanied by a fever, headache, and decreased appetite, you start to wonder if there could be more to the continuing series of scratchy throats plaguing your child. And for some kids, that’s exactly the case when tonsillitis occurs—a condition caused when tonsils become inflamed from infection.

The tonsils are small, round pieces of tissue that are located in the back of the mouth on the side of the throat. Tonsils are thought to help fight infections by producing antibodies and can usually be spotted in the throat of your child by using a light.

The symptoms of tonsillitis vary greatly depending on the cause of the infection, and can occur either suddenly or gradually. Common symptoms besides a sore throat and fever can include nausea and vomiting; stomach aches; painful swallowing; and visual redness or drainage in the throat.

Want to test how well you know your tonsils? Click here to take the University of Utah Health Care’s quiz.

Treatment options for tonsillitis vary based on a child’s age, overall health, and medical history; the extent of the infection; type of infection; and a child’s tolerance for medications and procedures. Some children may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat surgeon to have their tonsils removed.

Reasons when a tonsillectomy might be right for a young patient include instances where a child has been diagnosed with sleep apnea; has trouble swallowing; has a tumor discovered in the throat or nasal passage, or other circumstances when a physician recommends that removing the tonsils might the best course of action The American Academy of Otolaryngology also suggests guidelines for when a tonsillectomy is appropriate, including cases when a child has seven throat infections in one year; five throat infections in each of two years and three throat infections in three years. Confirmed episodes of strep throat (also called “strep pharyngitis”) are treated more seriously due to their potential for harmful

“The main reasons that tonsils are usually removed include when they are so big that they are causing breathing problems for a child, or when the child is having frequent or severe tonsil infections,” said Bryan McRae, M.D., a board-eligible specialist in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at University of Utah Health Care’s South Jordan Health Center. “If your child has frequent bouts with strep throat, it might be worth scheduling an appointment with an ear, nose and throat specialist to see if tonsillectomy surgery would be helpful.

If a parent and physician confirm that a tonsillectomy is the right decision for a patient, the procedure is usually done on an outpatient basis, meaning a child will have surgery and then go home the same day. Some younger children, especially children under 3 years old, might need to stay overnight for observation.

The surgery involves general anesthesia in the operating room. The surgeon will remove the child’s tonsils through the mouth, leaving no cuts on the skin. The adenoids, which contain similar tissue at the back of the nose, are usually removed too. In most cases, after the surgery, the child goes to a recovery room where he or she can be monitored closely. After the child is fully awake and doing well, the recovery room nurse brings the child back to the day surgery area, and the child usually heads home.

“Having your tonsils removed is a common procedure,” said Dr. McRae. “However, every surgery is a big deal and needs to happen under the right circumstances, for the right reasons, and by someone who is an expert in the field.”

He noted most tonsillectomies take about an hour for surgery, with some rest and recovery time for about a week after the procedure.

“Most people are feeling like themselves again in two to three weeks,” McRae reassured.