Tonsillectomies are one of the most common pediatric surgeries performed worldwide. In fact, more than 530,000 are conducted on children under age 15 annually in the United States. So, if your child’s physician has recommended that he or she should have their tonsils removed, you can take comfort in knowing it’s not uncommon.
To determine whether the procedure is right for your child, first it is important to understand what the tonsils are.
Tonsils Fight Infections
Tonsils are two round masses located in the back of the throat. They work in tandem with the adenoids, which are lymphatic tissue housed between the back of the nose and the throat.
The tonsils and adenoids are part of the immune system and help protect the body from disease. They “sample” bacteria and viruses that enter through the mouth or nose. Children often get a sore throat when the tonsils, the first line of defense in the throat, are doing their job fighting infections. The tonsils usually swell a bit and get red when that’s happening.
Unfortunately, sometimes they can get infected or cause problems by being too large. That is when you and your child’s physician may begin to consider having them surgically removed.
Signs Your Child’s Tonsils May Need to Be Removed
Your child’s doctor will consider a number of factors when talking with you about whether an operation is necessary. Some key benchmarks your child’s physician may take into account include:
- Obstructed breathing – Your doctor may recommend an operation if your child has obstructed breathing, snoring, restlessness, or short pauses in breathing (apneas).
- Frequent and severe bouts of tonsillitis – A tonsillectomy may be recommended if your child is getting tonsillitis frequently. Strep throat, a bacterial infection characterized by white spots on the throat, is often a result of tonsillitis. So, If your child has had repeated bouts of strep throat – at least five per year and as many as seven in a couple of years – it’s likely the bacteria that causes strep throat has colonized in the tonsils. To prevent chronic strep throat, the physician might recommend a tonsillectomy.
- Long-lasting tonsillitis – When there’s so much damage to your child's tonsils that they remain infected and do not respond well to antibiotic treatment, a tonsillectomy may be recommended.
During and After Surgery
A tonsillectomy usually takes less than an hour and can be performed in Kelsey-Seybold’s Ambulatory Surgery Center.
When undergoing the procedure, your child will have general anesthesia and the surgeon will do the operation through your child's mouth. There are usually no stitches, but there could be a small raw patch, like a graze, on each side of your child's throat where the tonsils were. It will take 10 to 14 days to heal.
In some cases, your child will be able to go home the same day as his or her operation. In other cases, your child will stay in hospital overnight. Normally, your child will need to stay under observation at least four hours after the operation is completed.
Pain relief is important after the operation. Your doctor or nurse will advise you about what pain relief to use.
Of course, a tonsillectomy is an elective procedure, so work closely with your child’s physicians when considering whether to proceed with the operation. Your child’s health is their priority as much as it is yours.
Dr. Wright is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Summer Creek Clinic in Humble. Child obesity, newborn care, and ADHD are among her top clinical interests. Being around kids makes every day at work fun for her.