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What Parents Need to Know When Considering a Tonsillectomy

What Parents Need to Know When Considering a Tonsillectomy

Guest Post by Katy Fleming, MA, LPC, BSN, RN

When sore throats coupled with fever and swollen tonsils continually torment your child, you may need to consider a tonsillectomy. 

As one of the most common surgeries among children, a tonsillectomy is the surgical removal of tonsils.  Despite over 500,000 occurring in children each year, there are significantly fewer tonsillectomies than 30 decades ago.

Let’s discuss why these surgeries occur less often and other potential treatment options when considering a tonsillectomy.

What Parents Need to Know When Considering a Tonsillectomy

What Parents Need to Know When Considering a Tonsillectomy

Located on either side of the back of your mouth, those golf-ball-appearing lumps are lymph nodes called tonsils.  As part of the immune system, tonsils are protectors and help fight off infections.

Despite this, your child’s immune system can thrive without their tonsils.  For some, it’s more beneficial to proceed with the surgery.  Let’s discuss the facts, so you can determine the best path for your child.

When Is a Tonsillectomy Considered

There are two primary reasons that pediatric otolaryngologists, or Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) doctors, consider tonsillectomies. 

  1. Recurrent tonsillitis 
  2. Obstructive sleep apnea

Tonsilitis is inflammation of the tonsils typically caused by a viral infection.  When exactly is it considered excessive?  Most physicians agree that 7 or more episodes of tonsillitis in one year qualify for possible surgery.

Some children have tonsils so large that it impedes their ability to breathe.  Typically an issue at night, a child’s tonsils may get in the way causing snoring and brief periods without breathing.  This results in poor sleep and may highly affect the child’s overall well-being.

Tonsillectomies are considered when the tonsils are negatively impacting your child’s everyday life.  If your child is unable to obtain a full night of rest, then their grades at school may suffer, attention to task, etc.  Some children continually miss school due to infections.

Tonsillectomy procedure

What to Expect in Surgery

Your child will receive a referral to a pediatric ENT doctor for an evaluation.  Once deemed appropriate for surgery, your surgeon will review expectations and instructions to prepare you and your child.  For example, you’ll discuss what time to stop eating and drinking before the surgery, if medications should be held before the surgery, etc. 

General anesthesia is utilized to ensure your child is comfortable, asleep, and safe throughout the procedure.  The tonsils are removed through the mouth and the surgery typically lasts approximately 30 minutes.  Although the surgery could last longer.

Many children are allowed to return home on the same day, however, some do stay overnight for observation.  

The most common complication is bleeding.  Other possible risks are infection, complications with anesthesia, or breathing problems.  In the first few days after the surgery, your child will experience pain, fatigue, and hoarseness.

Alternative Options 

The most common alternative is to simply “what and wait.”  Your pediatrician may discuss ways to relieve some symptoms at home such as acetaminophen while you wait to see what happens.

Tonsillectomies occur significantly less now because doctors have learned that your child’s throat infections will most likely naturally decrease over time.  Additionally, some tonsils may shrink over time.

Some physicians will recommend monitoring your child’s symptoms.  Evaluate how your kiddo’s situation affects their daily living.  Discuss the pros and cons with their physician.

Common Misconceptions 

After recognizing the purpose of tonsils, some may question if tonsillectomies lessen immunity.  Although your tonsils play a role in fighting infection, removing the tonsils doesn’t lessen the immune response.    

Many people also believe that removing the tonsils will end sore throats.  Throat infections can still occur after Tonsillectomies, although usually significantly less frequent.

This procedure is also not only performed on children.  Adults have their tonsils removed, as well, but commonly have a longer recovery period. 

What Parents Need to Know When Considering a Tonsillectomy

Final Thoughts

Tonsillectomies remain one of the most commonly performed surgeries on children today.  It’s important to weigh all your options to determine the best course of action for your kiddo.

Be sure to discuss the benefits and risks with your child’s physician.

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As a licensed counselor and registered nurse, Katy approaches freelance writing with years of experience and a unique perspective. Alongside her partner, Katy loves to travel the world and embrace other cultures from volcanoes in Iceland to villages in India. 

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