If you think you are too old to need a tonsillectomy, think again. Many adults get them, and new research says they are relatively safe.
A recent study from Yale University found that adults who had tonsillectomies had low complication and mortality rates – similar to those of children.
However, in their study of nearly 6,000 adults who had tonsillectomies, researchers found the reoperation rate was 3.2 percent, slightly higher than rates for children.
This may be because a tonsillectomy is a more complex procedure that causes more pain and bleeding in adults.
To understand why, you need to look at the structure of a tonsil.
“In kids, the tonsils sit mostly in the throat. With adults, they’ve become recessed into tissue and are harder to access,” says Michael S. Benninger, MD, Chairman, Head and Neck Institute at Cleveland Clinic.
Also, with repeated infections, there is more scarring, which makes the tonsils more difficult to remove – and, naturally, adults prone to tonsil inflammation tend to have had many more years of infections than children.
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Experts say if you’re missing work for days at a time because of your throat, you should have your tonsils checked.
Dr. Benninger explains when surgery is and isn’t recommended:
“When I decide whether or not to recommend surgery, I base that decision on intensity of symptoms, frequency of symptoms and their impact on daily life,” Dr. Benninger says.
“I tell adults to expect soreness for a week. It’s not a fun operation and people can experience more pain than they expected,” Dr. Benninger says.
Adults may not want to eat much for seven to ten days, while a child may want to eat a hamburger on the day of surgery.
The most common complication after surgery is infection, including pneumonia, urinary tract and superficial site infections.
Now, researchers are focusing on preventing postoperative infections in high-risk patients, which can also help reduce the need for reoperation.
“I want to see what we can do to reduce postoperative bleeding and lessen pain,” Dr. Benninger says.
At one time, researchers thought antibiotics could dampen pain, but later studies did not prove this was useful. Researches have also tried various coating solutions.
“However, no techniques have yet been found that are foolproof – and these solutions will be the golden ticket,” Dr. Benninger says.