Each generation thought they were doing it for the right reason. The practice of removing a child’s tonsils has changed over time.
“We went through a time years ago where everybody got their tonsils out. Then we went through a time where people were holding off a lot more. We still do it very often, but only when you meet the right criteria,” says Dr. Daniel McKenna, otolaryngologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
Sore throats are a common childhood ailment. Historically it was the top reason for a tonsillectomy. But the tonsils aren’t the source of sickness- only a collection point for bacteria.
“They get overwhelmed and the bacteria ends up just hanging out there. Instead of actually helping the problem they end up being these sponges of bacteria in your throat,” says Dr. McKenna.
Health experts now believe it’s best to let it ride. Unless a child has 7 throat infections or strep in one year or 5 for two consecutive years, guidelines state they are a candidate for removal. Nowadays, obstruction is a bigger concern.
“Of either the airway, where you’re not breathing properly, snoring potentially maybe holding your breath and gasping for air at night which would be obstructive sleep apnea. Or obstruction of your ability to swallow,” says Dr. McKenna.
New recommendations suggest a tonsillectomy to treat apnea may also improve related conditions of bed-wetting, slow growth, hyperactive behavior, and poor school performance.
“You kind of have to try to separate those factors out. If you determine there’s a problem, you should take care of it,” says Dr. McKenna.
Understanding when a tonsillectomy might be needed can help you and your child.