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Tonsillectomies: Not Just For Kids Any More

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Remember when you were eight and you begged your parents to let you get a tonsillectomy, but they refused, because they thought you were going to die of blood loss? And you told them that your sore throats were so frequent and painful that you wanted to risk it? But they were all, "No, Carrie, we are your parents, and you can make that decision when you're 18"? And then the doctor told you that if you could get past childhood with your tonsils intact, then the sore throats would go away, because tonsillitis is a disease of the young? Yeah, me too.

Well, it turns out we kids were right: Tonsillectomies are good for kids and adults. According to a new study published in the German journal Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, adults who have their tonsils removed also see a huge reduction in their number of sore throats.

The study followed 114 adults who had their tonsils removed in 2004, after complaining of frequent sore throats. The patients reported an average of 10 sore throats a year before the procedure, and only two sore throats a year afterward, even seven years after the procedure. That's an 80 percent decrease.

After the tonsillectomies, patients also visited the doctor's office a lot less: from about five times a year, to only once annually (and for some people, less than that). These same folks had also been missing a whopping 11 days of work per year, but after surgery, they missed fewer than two days, which might suggest that workplaces have a financial incentive to offer insurance which covers the procedure.

There are a couple things Mom and Dad were right about, though: tonsillectomy remains a difficult surgery, with many potential complications. According to one study in The Laryngoscope, the 552 health professionals who took part in the study collectively reported 51 deaths from tonsillectomy, and four additional cases of serious brain injury. Another study published in the The Journal of Laryngology & Otology found that the death rate in Israel (where the data were collected) was about one per 12,000.

Those aren't terrific odds, but compared with 10 sore throats a year, I'll take 'em.

The new study is available in its original German in the journal Deutsches Ärzteblatt International. An English press release and summary is available through EurekAlert.

Photo: Eduardo García Cruz | Flickr

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