Ask Dr. Dina: My kid has to have his tonsils out. Is it worth the trouble?

While tonsils can in fact regrow, tonsillectomies are still recommended for kids with sleep apnea.

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

My kid has to have his tonsils out. I heard that they can grow back—is it worth the trouble?  

Though tonsillectomies were frequently performed when many of us were kids, the prevalence of these surgeries has steeply declined. Now it’s most commonly performed for kids with sleep apnea, in which a child has episodes of breathing difficulties, gasping or not breathing at night. Typically, after a sleep study shows that a kid’s oxygen level drops while he’s asleep, the tonsils and adenoids (tissue behind the nose) are removed to decrease any obstruction in the nasal passage.

When tonsils are removed for recurrent strep throat or sleep apnea, most or all of the tonsillar tissue is removed. On rare occasions the tonsils can regrow, though they’re unlikely to return to their original size. As long as they stay small enough to prevent the recurrence of sleep apnea symptoms, the surgery is of great benefit.

It is, however, a painful procedure. Your child may be sore for a week or two post-surgery. In fact, the pain may actually increase four to seven days afterward, when the healing area contracts. (Treat your child’s pain with acetaminophen; ibuprofen can increase the risk of bleeding). The tonsils will turn white after the surgery; this is how the throat scabs and heals. Minimal post-operative bleeding is common, but if it is increasing or not stopping easily, you need to see a doctor immediately.

Dina Kulik is a paediatrician and emergency room doctor in Toronto and mom to three boys, who are five, three and 17 months. Send her your kids’ health questions at editors@todaysparent.com

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