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New Ulm Medical Center

Kids and tonsils – when the two may need to go their separate ways

Getting your tonsils out – it used to be almost a rite of passage. You missed a bunch of school, spent several nights in the hospital and ate legendary amounts of ice cream.

Although kids haven’t changed and they’d still welcome the ice cream, doctors are recommending this surgery less often than in decades past, reports the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Sometimes, though, removing tonsils is the best move.

Cranky and sore

If you look in your child’s throat with a flashlight, you’ll see these oval-shaped pads of tissue, one on either side. Tonsils are part of the body’s immune system, and they fight germs that enter the body through the nose and mouth.

Tonsils cause problems when they become inflamed, usually due to infection, a condition called tonsillitis.

According to the AAP, signs and symptoms of tonsillitis include:

  • Red, swollen tonsils
  • White or yellow coating over the tonsils
  • A sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • A fever

Tonsils can also become enlarged, making it hard to breathe. Enlarged tonsils can cause trouble sleeping or even sleep apnea, a disorder in which breathing stops and starts repeatedly during sleep. Snoring may be your first clue, and the end result can be a sleep-deprived, cranky child.

Deciding on surgery

Tonsillitis caused by bacteria usually gets better with antibiotics, and enlarged tonsils may shrink on their own.

But when tonsil trouble affects a child’s well-being, the approach is often to remove the tonsils.

“The decision to remove tonsils is made based on each individual child – their symptoms and history of issues,” said Kara Jorve, MD, family medicine doctor at New Ulm Medical Center. “If your child has had frequent throat infections or if they snore a disproportionate amount, it may be time to share your concerns with your provider.”

This outpatient surgery usually takes less than an hour, although an overnight stay may sometimes be necessary.

Adenoids – tissue high in the throat that is also part of the immune system – can cause similar problems. They are sometimes removed along with the tonsils.

Life without tonsils

When tonsils are removed, the body’s ability to fight infection is not harmed; other tissues in the body cover this function.

Children typically are healthier and also tend to sleep better, which can mean a happier child and relieved parents.