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Tonsillectomies and the Sleep Apnea Connection

The Mayo Clinic defines a tonsillectomy as “the surgical removal of the tonsils, two oval-shaped pads of tissue at the back of the throat – one tonsil on each side.”  Historically, this procedure was used as a tool in fighting chronic streptococcal infections.  Recent research is suggesting that the prevention of these infections “appear to go away” over time.  But more interestingly is that this procedure has been found to be beneficial to patients in other unexpected ways.

A recent Reuters article by Lisa Rappaport discusses the interesting transition of the tonsillectomy.  Still a widely common procedure, the latest research suggests that the infections the tonsillectomy was enacted to deter are sometimes only bringing short term relief.  The article mentions a Pediatrics study that claims “three years after tonsillectomies, children who had these procedures had roughly the same number of throat infections as kids who didn’t get their tonsils out.”  Ms. Rappaport goes on to intimate that the existing research failed to address the correlation between level of severity and level of benefit, which would surely effect the results of the study.

One of the authors of this most recent study – Dr. Sivakumar Chinnadurai – stated to Ms. Rappaport:

“The recognition of risks, and the knowledge that some patients’ infection rate improves over time has led to (strep) infection being a much less common indication for tonsillectomy than it was in the past.  While tonsillectomy remains one of the most common surgeries performed in the United States, the main indication for children has switched to obstructed breathing.”

It may not seem too surprising that inflamed, swollen tonsils may cause a child some difficulty breathing.  In a second study, researchers gathered data from almost a dozen previous studies that showed a clear correlation between tonsillectomy and sleep quality.  Ms. Rappaport states that “Compared to kids who didn’t get surgery, children who had tonsillectomies had greater improvements in sleep-related quality of life and in negative behaviors that are worsened by apnea…”

As with most newly found data within the medical community, these findings are not definite; they do, however, offer some hope for possible future prevention of Sleep Apnea.  As always, Pittsburgh Dental Sleep Medicine will stay aware and report on this and all other sleep related topics.

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