Removing Tonsils Could Treat Behavior Problems

A surprising number of health and behavior problems -- from ADHD to sleep apnea -- can be treated by removing a child's tonsils.

Check Those Tonsils!

Annie Drohan used to stand next to her 5-year-old's bed every night and listen to her snore and breathe irregularly. "It was terrifying -- sometimes I'd count to 25 before Meghan would take her next breath," says the mom from Torrance, California. Then Meghan's teacher called to say that the kindergartner was falling asleep in class and seemed unfocused and easily distracted. "Meghan had been so bright that she'd started school early, but now her teacher wanted to hold her back a year," says Drohan. "My daughter was also gaining a lot of weight and even had trouble running around and keeping up with her friends."

Meghan's pediatrician attributed all of her symptoms -- which included frequent colds and a constant runny nose -- to allergies and prescribed antihistamines and steroid nose spray. Convinced that something else was wrong, Drohan decided to take her daughter to see Nina Shapiro, MD, a pediatric otolaryngologist at UCLA, who gave Meghan a totally different diagnosis: enlarged tonsils. "When Dr. Shapiro advised surgery, the first thing I thought of was how sick I felt after I had my own tonsils out as a kid," says Drohan. But when Meghan had the procedure last year, she was outside playing within the week. More importantly, she quickly stopped snoring and having breathing troubles, and within a couple weeks, her other symptoms -- both at home and at school -- completely disappeared.

Parents often assume that tonsillectomies are a thing of the past, but they're actually the second most common childhood surgery (following ear-tube insertions), with more than 600,000 performed every year. And 75 percent of these procedures are now done to treat nighttime breathing problems like Meghan's and related symptoms. "Unfortunately, a lot of these symptoms are easy for both doctors and parents to brush off, so a child's tonsils can get overlooked," says Marcella Bothwell, MD, a pediatric otolaryngologist at the University of Missouri, in Columbia. But getting an accurate diagnosis is essential.

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