Swollen Tonsils: Is Tonsil Removal the Answer?

Tonsils were once considered one of the most expendable parts of the body, especially for children. For years it seemed that tonsillectomies were more common than not, but then the number of procedures began to wane as pediatricians, in recent years, took a closer look at what constitutes the removal of a child’s tonsils.

Three masses of lymphoid tissue make up the tonsils – the lingual tonsil, the pharyngeal tonsil and the palatine tonsil. Lymphoid tissues are part of the immune system which helps protect it from bacteria and other potentially threatening foreign entities. Many ear, nose and throat doctors considered repeated numbers of strep throat infections as good reason to consider a tonsillectomy. Years ago the removal of tonsils was thought necessary to prevent rheumatic fever, which is where a tonsil infection could lead. Because rheumatic fever can damage vital organs such as the heart and kidneys, it was assumed vital to prevent the spread of illness by eliminating the infected tonsils.

Today, tonsillectomy is still considered justified for a variety of reasons. Enlarged tonsils, for example, can also pose several health risks. Children with recurrent sinus and ear infections can face further complications if they have large tonsils. Nutrition can even be affected by preventing effective swallowing and tweaking a child’s sense of taste; voice quality can also be sufficiently compromised. One of the other greatest challenges faced by children with adverse tonsil conditions is the ability to get a good night’s rest. In most all cases of recurrently enlarged tonsils, physicians will try to reduce the symptoms of enlarged tonsils through antibiotics and other medications.

swollen tonsilsFor children with repeated infections, antibiotics may not always be effective and quality of everyday life could be negatively impacted by constant illness. What is considered recurrent or constant depends on the physician, but at least seven significant episodes of swollen tonsils in a year, at least five in each of two years or at least three in each of the three years are safe indicators. A significant episode involves high fever, enlarged lymph nodes, a pus-like coating and a diagnosis from a physician. If you discover that your child suffers from these symptoms on such a consistent basis that it negatively affects their quality life, you may prepare yourself for the possibility that your family doctor will consider a surgical procedure.

Although tonsils may be expendable, they aren’t useless – they are good for the immune system, which is why doctors, especially in recent years, aren’t too hasty to take them out. Tonsils are the only area where physicians can look at the lymph system. By looking at the tonsils, doctors can make diagnoses of recurrent infection. Should it be deemed necessary for your child’s tonsils to be removed, parents can rest assured that the procedure is common. Despite this, however, it could be more than a week before your child is able to return to school. Although often underrated as a surgical procedure, the recovery process following removal of the tonsils can be uncomfortable.

The bottom line about tonsils is that each individual case is different. Sometimes getting tonsils removed is the best way to handle multiple painful episodes tonsil infections and other times it’s not. Making sure you have the best doctors and decide what is best for the child (or adult in many cases) is the smartest thing to do. Good luck to you!

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