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Tonsil Removal Risks for Children May Outweigh Benefits: Study

New research raises questions about the benefits and risks associated with removing a child’s tonsils or adenoids, suggesting that it may make them more liely to suffer respiratory diseases later in life. 

In a study published in the medical journal JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery on June 7, a group of Australian, Danish and U.S. researchers warn that suffering upper respiratory diseases poses a greater risk to a person’s health than suffering from the childhood conditions addressed by removing the tonsils or adenoids.

Researchers examined data for more than 1.2 million children born in Denmark between 1979 and 1999, evaluating health records using linked national registers up to 2009, covering 10 to 30 years of the patient’s life. They also used control patients to compare the risk.

The data indicates having an adenoidectomy or tonsillectomy was associated with double or triple the risk of diseases of the upper respiratory tract. Their removal also increased the risk of allergic and infectious diseases later in life.

Tonsillectomy posed triple the risk of upper respiratory tract diseases, such as asthma and pneumonia. Whereas adenoidectomy was associated with double the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), upper respiratory tract diseases and conjunctivitis.

Undergoing an adenotonsillectomy, when both are removed, was also associated with a 17% increased risk of infectious disease.

Tonsils and adenoids are removed during childhood for a variety of reasons. Typically to help treat obstructed breathing, recurring tonsillitis, or recurrent middle-ear infections. They are common pediatric procedures. However, researchers warned little is known about the long-term health risks associated with these surgeries.

These surgeries affect the lymphatic organs and are key in the development and function of the immune system overall.

More than 530,000 children undergo these surgeries in the U.S. every year. This places a large number of children at risk of future disease, according to these latest findings.

Researchers argue the potential diseases the children would get as adults are much riskier to their health than the conditions pediatricians are attempting to treat when their patients are children.

“The long-term risks of these surgeries deserve careful consideration,” the researchers warned.

The researchers concluded that increases in disease risk later in life were “considerably larger” than the risk the childhood conditions treated by the surgeries posed to patients. They warned that the risk to benefit ratio should be carefully considered when doctors propose these surgeries on children.

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