Recommending tonsillectomy

By Tom Fortner • Published: January 29th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

You remember tonsils, don’t you… those two glands just at the back of the mouth on either side of the throat? Part of the lymphatic system, tonsils quietly play a role in helping the body fight infection, going largely unnoticed until they become inflamed in the line of duty. Then they can make a child miserable with a severe sore throat, fever and difficulty swallowing… a condition known as tonsillitis.

There was a time when a trip to the hospital to have tonsils surgically removed was a rite of passage. Tonsillectomy was the standard treatment of recurrent tonsillitis.

More recently, recognizing the risks of even minor surgery, doctors treat tonsillitis more conservatively. Infections caused by a virus usually clear up on their own, while bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics.

Now Mayo Clinic researchers have conducted a study that offers more guidance in cases of tonsillitis produced by the bacterium that causes strep throat, the culprit in one-sixth to one-third of all cases. Doctors studied children who had experienced at least three episodes of strep-related tonsillitis in twelve months. Those whose tonsils were not removed were three times more likely to have additional bouts of strep infection than children who underwent tonsillectomy.

Weighing missed school days and extra misery experienced by children with recurrent infections against the expense and relatively minor risk of surgery gave doctors additional information about when to recommend tonsillectomy. Your pediatrician or family physician can help you decide what’s best for your child.