Does my child need tonsil and adenoid surgery?

Discover common symptoms that may be warning signs that your child would benefit from tonsil removal or the removal of both the tonsils and adenoids.

Learn when to take your child to the doctor and what tests your pediatrician may suggest.

While common, tonsil and adenoid removal is still a serious surgery. Learn how to recognize symptoms that may mean your child needs to see an ENT. A specialist can help you determine if this surgery, or one removing only the tonsils or adenoids, is right for your child.

The evolution of “getting your tonsils out”

In the 1970s, tonsil surgery, or tonsillectomy, was a common childhood procedure. At the time, most surgeries were conducted because of recurring sore throats and throat infections. The American Academy of Otolaryngology reports that nowadays only about 20 percent of tonsillectomies in kids are done to treat recurrent infection. The remaining 80 percent are actually performed to treat obstructive sleep problems. Obstructive sleep problems can affect kids in a variety of ways, including contributing to poor school performance and problem behavior. Many parents are surprised to learn that these symptoms are related to sleep and that the underlying cause can be treated with excellent results.

Learn what to look out for

While tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies aren’t always performed together, it’s common to see children going in for both procedures. When you visit an ENT, your child will be evaluated for problems related to both. What may lead you to visit an ENT? Symptoms of enlarged adenoids that contribute to sleep problems include loud snoring at night, interrupted and restless sleep, mouth breathing at night, dry mouth, cracked lips, irritability and bedwetting. Symptoms of problems with the tonsils include frequent sore throats, ear infections and throat infections.

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Got symptoms? Talk to your doctor

A quick visit to the pediatrician is usually the first step toward determining if surgery is the right answer for your child. Your pediatrician may order an X-ray to take a look at the size of the child’s adenoids, or may refer you directly to an ENT. While some surgeons may recommend the surgery based on the condition of your child’s adenoids and the present symptoms, others may order a sleep study to be performed. A sleep study is an extensive test conducted at the hospital or a study center to help determine whether or not your child is experiencing obstructive sleep apnea. If surgery is recommended, ask lots of questions until you feel comfortable. It’s perfectly normal to experience some uncertainty when it comes to choosing surgery as treatment option.

What to expect from T&A surgery

Kids often respond to the removal of the tonsils and adenoids more easily than adults, recovering with minimal discomfort. Most kids are able to return home the day of the surgery, after a brief recovery period in the hospital. While it may be up to two weeks before your child can resume all activities, she’ll feel better before the week is out. In fact, the National Institutes of Health reports that the recovery will typically be only a few days if only the adenoids are removed. Ask your doctor what you should be on the lookout for regarding complications, and be prepared to see your child in a disoriented and potentially upset state directly after the surgery. This will pass quickly, and you’ll be far more likely to remember it than your child.

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