Dr. Alan Greene on Tonsil Removal

My child has a lot of throat infections.

Question

My child has a lot of throat infections. Should his tonsils be removed?

Answer

It used to be that tonsils were removed routinely if there were any problems. We have since learned that the tonsils are an important part of the immune system. They function as guard outposts, identifying and trapping germs before they get into the lungs or intestines. More importantly, they function as a training school for white blood cells, where they learn to recognize invaders. As kids grow, the tonsils shrink as they become less and less important -- their job is winding down. (Parents also protect and teach kids when young -- our role lessens when they grow, but it is still wonderful to have parents.)

Today, there are a few reasons to take out the tonsils. One is obstructive sleep apnea, where the tonsils get in the way of breathing at night. The other is an unusual number of tonsil infections. For most children, the tipping point (where the benefits of taking the tonsils out is greater than the cost) comes with seven episodes of strep throat or tonsillitis in one year or six in each of two consecutive years, or five in each of three years. There are other reasons -- such as allergies to antibiotics -- that might also influence the decision.

 

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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