Tonsillectomy is the surgical removal of the tonsils, which are the paired glands located in the back of the throat. Although long practiced, the tonsillectomy is still one of the most common major surgeries in the US, with over 500,000 cases performed annually. Reasons to have a tonsillectomy tend to vary. The most common reasons include recurrent tonsil infections (tonsillitis) that don’t respond to antibiotics, sleep apnea, difficulty breathing or swallowing or concern for malignancy (cancer).
Having large tonsils does not necessarily indicate that surgery is needed. When the tonsils are so large that they are touching each other, they are considered “kissing tonsils”. Unless a patient experiences trouble breathing or difficulty swallowing, large tonsils that are not infected are usually observed. Sometimes this condition can be treated medically.
Recurrent tonsil infections (including streptococcal type infections) are very common in younger children. Symptoms typically include throat pain, difficulty swallowing, and enlarged lymph nodes. Under most circumstances, surgery should be considered after 5-7 infections in 1 year, 5 infections per year for two years in a row, or 3 infections per year for 3 years in a row. It should also be considered after missing a substantial amount of school or work (>2 weeks per year). Sometimes patients experience a severe infection in which an abscess develops on the tonsil, also known as a peritonsillar abscess (PTA). Tonsillectomy should be considered for patients who experience multiple PTA’s.
Sleep apnea is another indication for sleep apnea. Large tonsils (usually with enlarged adenoids) can obstruct the airway and cause difficulty breathing at night. By removing the tonsils ( and adenoids at times) patients may experience improved sleep quality, less snoring, and less daytime fatigue.This is a very common, effective treatment for children with pediatric sleep apnea.
If you or family members have concerns regarding tonsil or throat symptoms, please do not hesitate to contact Colden & Seymour Ear, Nose, Throat, and Allergy to schedule an examination.