Shrinking tonsils much less painful, causes less bleeding than tonsillectomy

ADELAIDE, Australia — Having your tonsils removed is a right of passage for many children. While kids love that it usually ends with several bowls of ice cream, a full tonsillectomy can be a very painful process. Researchers in Australia say a procedure that focuses on “shrinking” the tonsils instead of completely cutting them out causes less pain and reduces bleeding risks too.

The 10-year study by a team at Flinders University finds a “tonsillotomy” can cut recovery times for patients in half. Children undergoing this reduction of the tonsils return to normal activities in 4.6 days. The average recovery for a classic tonsillectomy takes over 11 days.

The review of over 600 children who had tonsil surgery between 2008 and 2018 adds patients are three times less likely to bleed after this partial removal compared to full surgery. They are also eight times less likely to suffer a severe bleed which requires them to reenter the hospital.

“A full tonsillectomy exposes the muscles of the throat, causing pain and a higher risks of bleeding. By removing 90-95% of the tonsil and leaving a small crescent-moon of tissue intact, it leads to much less pain and bleeding, which obviously allows kids to go back to childcare or school so much earlier as well as reassuring parents there is much less risk of a tonsil hemorrhage,” says co-lead researcher Sara Attard in a media release.

Is the tonsillectomy a thing of the past?

Researchers say this procedure was developed in Scandinavia and is now commonly utilized in the United States and other countries.

“It takes longer than a full tonsillectomy but our data have shown the benefits are just so great, we believe parents need to be aware of this option,” says Flinders University Professor Simon Carney.

Carney adds that recurrent tonsillitis, an inflammation of the tonsils, is far less common today than in the past. Doctors generally opt for surgery when the tonsils cause an obstruction, such as snoring and sleep problems. Speech and eating issues can also lead to removal.

Despite coming less and less needed, a tonsillectomy is still one of the most common procedures performed by ear, nose, and throat specialists.

The study appears in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery.

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