Tonsillectomy: When is it Necessary?
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Many older adults today have had a tonsillectomy (surgical removal of the tonsils at the back of the throat). The frequency of tonsillectomy procedures peaked in popularity from the late 1950s through the 1970s as a treatment for children with frequent or recurring sore throats. Since the heyday of tonsillectomy in the 70s, the tonsillectomy rate has declined by about 75%, from about 1 million per year to just around 250,000. The reason for this decline is a growing skepticism on the part of both doctors and parents that the procedure has benefit for most people in helping control infections. Even a major research study in 2004 showed that many, if not most, tonsillectomies, might not be needed at all.
The operation itself is a fairly simple procedure with relatively few risks of serious consequences. Still, infection, bleeding, and complications from the anesthetic drugs are a potential risk of any surgical operation. Most children who have a tonsillectomy will need to miss at least a week of school, and there is usually some degree of discomfort in the days following the procedure.
While doctors may still debate the necessity for tonsillectomy and its effectiveness as a treatment, there are certain circumstances for which the tonsillectomy is definitely recommended, including:...