There was a time in the United States when doctors would remove tonsils and adenoids from young children simply as a matter of course so that they did not cause problems later on. Then, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as awareness of unnecessary surgeries grew and the medical profession came under increasing scrutiny, these surgeries tapered off and became all but unheard of except in the most extreme circumstances and after proving substantial medical necessity.
Recently, however, the incidence of both tonsillectomies and surgery for the removal of adenoids has been on the rise yet again. Doctors are suggesting to parents with children as young as three that their adenoids need to come out. The reasons given for surgery of the adenoids are usually because of sleep apnea or breathing difficulties. According to doctors, if the adenoid becomes too large it will partially block a child’s breathing during sleep. Doctors will also remove adenoids because of frequent ear infections.
One thing, however, that many surgeons do not tell parents is that all of the adenoids cannot be removed with the surgery. Adenoid tissue will still remain, and it is not uncommon for the adenoid to regenerate and “grow back.” When this occurs, symptoms also return.
Every surgery has risks. The most common risks involve complications with or reactions to anesthesia. Other risks involve excessive bleeding during the surgery or clotting issues following the surgery. And, of course, with any surgery the risk of infection is always present. When faced with a surgery, most patients weigh the benefits received from the surgery against the likelihood and severity of possible risks. And many rely upon what doctors tell them to make a decision.
The removal of adenoids is questionable, at best, and it is doubtful as to whether the benefits outweigh the risks of surgery, especially for a small child. Additionally, surgery should only be seen as a last course of action when all other options have been tried and have failed. Furthermore, every parent should remember that though breathing difficulties can be troubling and make a parent feel as though they should do “something,” the tissues that make up the adenoids will begin to regress in size during adolescence. Some of the reasons why doctors suggest that adenoids be removed such as recurrent ear infections also abate with age.