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Does Your Child Need a Tonsillectomy? Does Your Child Need a Tonsillectomy?
by Kimberly Allen, RN One of the reasons many adults today don’t get tonsillitis is because they don’t have their tonsils anymore.  That is because... Does Your Child Need a Tonsillectomy?

by Kimberly Allen, RN

One of the reasons many adults today don’t get tonsillitis is because they don’t have their tonsils anymore.  That is because many adults were children during the time when tonsillectomies were considered a right of passage for many children.  Tonsillectomy is the surgical removal of the tonsils.  Back in the late 1950’s through the 1970’s, tonsillectomies were one of the most common surgeries done on children, with over 1 million tonsillectomies performed every year.  In my early days working in the hospital, during the winter, there were more children in the hospital for tonsillectomies than for all the other reasons combined.  The nurses station was always stalked with popcycles and ice cream.  Since that time the rate of tonsillectomies has steadily declined to approximately 250,000 per year currently.

There are many reasons for the decline, the main one being increasing skeptism by both Drs and parents that the surgery is beneficial.  Then in 2004 there was a major research study that showed that most tonsillectomies were not necessary. While the surgical proceedure itself is a fairly simple procedureit is still surgery and therefore carries potential risks including
infection and postoperative bleeding as well as complications related to the use of anesthesia.  Even without complications your child will need to spend at least a week to 10 days at home recovering.  If your child is a toddler you’ll need to be extra vigilent in being sure he/she doesn’t stick anything in their mouth that can get caught in their throat and open the sutures causing bleeding.  Children are prone to viral infections because their immune systems are still developing and after surgery their immune systems are busy trying to heal the surgical incision leaving them more vulnerable to infection, so it’s important to practice good hand washing and don’t allow your child to share drinking glasses or utensils with anyone else.

Though most Drs will try to avoid surgical intervention for tonsillitis there are certain conditions when a tonsillectomy may be the best option.  If your child has tonsilitis more than 7 times in 1 year or more than 5 times for the past 2 years or more than 3 times a year in each of the last 3 years it is considered recurring or chronic tonsillitis and most Drs feelthat a tonsillectomy would be beneficial. Also, if your child has a bacterial tonsillitis that doesn’t respond to antibiotic therapy a tonsillectomy may be the only option to resoving your childs tonsillitis.  Other conditions that may require a tonsillectomy is if there is obstructive sleep apnea, acondition where your childs breathing stops for short periods at night, or any other time due to enlarged tonsils.  Sometimes if the tonsillitis has not been effectively treated abscesses can develop around the tonsils requiring them to be removed.

The best way to avoid discussing surgery for your child is to take precautions to avoid throat infections including frequent hand washing and use of an alcohol based hand sanitizer,  Avoid sharing drinking glasses and utensils.  If you have a toddler that likes to put his/her toys in their mouth wash them regularly.  Always cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow and teach children to do the same.  And probably the most important of all is to make sure yoour child finishes the entire course of antibiotics if your Dr has prescribed them.  Most complications develop because the infection was not fully eradicated because the antibiotic treatment was stopped early.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at