Parents May Want to Double Check Before Allowing for Their Child's Tonsillectomy if Age Three or Younger

Parents May Want to Double Check Before Allowing for Their Child's Tonsillectomy if Age Three or Younger

Weight is not the primary indicator for whether or not it is safe for a child to undergo a tonsillectomy - age is.

When a child's tonsils are inflamed, doctors frequently recommend surgical removal through a procedure known as a tonsillectomy. Yet extra caution should be taken when considering tonsillectomies in children ages three and under, according to new research published online on March 15 in JAMA Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery.

More than 1,800 cases were studied involving children under the age of six undergoing tonsillectomies. The rate of complications - including events such as bleeding or respiratory issues - was higher in the youngest of patients, the researchers found.

Children ages three and under had a 7 percent greater chance of needing post-surgical care for various complications, compared to 4.6 percent for children who were older than three. 

Ultimately, say the researchers, a child's age, rather than his weight is the key factor to consider when gauging the safety of a tonsillectomy and risk for complication. “We did not find [a child’s] weight to be a useful predictor of complications,” wrote the researchers, led by Dr. Claire Lawlor, a pediatric otolaryngologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, according to

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While mandating overnight observation and care following the surgery may help safeguard children to some degree, there are still risks present post-tonsillectomy. Dehydration and breathing problems are present more often in younger patients, while complications such as bleeding are not dependent on age, according to the new study.

 “Tonsillectomy may be appropriate for some children, whether because of recurrent infections or obstruction,” said Dr. Michael Grosso, chair of pediatrics at Huntington Hospital. “However, it is an operation that is not altogether without risks. First, be sure that it is necessary, and get a second opinion if there is any doubt.”