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When It’s Time for Those Tonsils to Come Out

Written by Melanie Williams, M.D. on Oct 21, 2017 8:46:00 AM

It’s never an easy decision to have your child go in for surgery. I find that parents struggle especially with tonsillectomies because there’s a perception it’s an “unnecessary” surgery. The truth is, under the right circumstances, having your child’s tonsils out may lead to a healthier, happier life in the long run. Here are some benchmarks to note when you’re trying to decide if a tonsillectomy is right for your child. 

They’re Having Trouble Sleeping

If your youngster seems to be having trouble focusing at school and you notice they’re tired or a restless sleeper, tonsils might be to blame. When a child’s tonsils become inflamed or swollen, it can block their airway during the night when they’re trying to sleep. This can leave them gasping for air, waking up suddenly in the middle of the night and experiencing restless, ineffective sleep. If your child has larger tonsils, you might also notice them snoring louder than normal – another sign their airway may be blocked. Poor sleep will result in being tired during the day, which can lead to struggling to focus at school. A large number of tonsillectomies are performed for this reason. 

Constant Cases of Strep Throat

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Inflamed, painful tonsils can be caused by tonsillitis, which is a virus that requires rest and fluids to combat. But it can also be caused by strep throat. Strep throat is a bacterial infection characterized by white spots on the throat. If your child has had repeated bouts of strep throat – at least five per year and as many as seven in a couple years, it’s likely the bacteria that causes strep throat has colonized in the tonsils. To prevent chronic strep throat, your physician might recommend a tonsillectomy. In the long run, it will help reduce the amount of time your child spends sick. 

Tonsillectomy is an elective surgery in most cases and it is important to note children can still get strep throat after having their tonsils removed. But for some children with recurring strep throat, tonsillectomy reduces the frequency and severity of strep throat infections.

You Notice They’re Breathing through Their Mouth

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If the tonsils are enlarged or swollen, your child will likely find it difficult to breathe through their nose and will compensate by breathing through their mouth. Not only is this a symptom of enlarged tonsils, but it can be the foundation for other issues. If the mouth remains open for too long, it causes drying, which is a good environment for bacteria to grow – this can lead to sore throats and cavities. 

If your doctor recommends a tonsillectomy, take it into consideration. If the thought of surgery makes you nervous, that’s perfectly normal. Talk to your child’s doctor and surgeon until you’re comfortable – that’s what they’re there for! 

Dr. Melanie Williams is a pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Pasadena Clinic and Clear Lake Clinic. Her clinical interests include developmental disorders and delays, blood disorders and normal development of babies and toddlers.

Topics: tonsils surgery, strep, tonsillitis

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