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Tonsils and Adenoid

Leah Sarich | posted Friday, Apr 10th, 2015


Back in the 70s getting your tonsils out was one of the most common surgeries performed. But by the 80s and 90s, the amount of those surgeries dropped by about 50 percent.

Doctors were removing tonsils back in the day for recurrent sore throats in children, now doctors are removing them more often to help with sleep problems. Doctors also know now much more about the risks associated with tonsillectomies and appreciate better how removing just the adenoid can help too.

I spoke with Pediatric Ear Nose and Throat physician Dr. Warren Yunker at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. He explains the adenoid is like a third tonsil. Most of us know, the two tonsils are located at the back of the throat, the adenoid is located at the back of the nose. So when the adenoid is enlarged, because of it’s location, it can block or obstruct the airway behind the nose causing breathing problems and subsequently sleeping problems in kids.

Removing the adenoid is a relatively simple surgery. The child is put under general anesthetic, the surgery itself takes about 20 minutes, the child wakes up, has a popsicle, waits in day surgery for a couple of hours or so and then goes home and is back to normal that night or the next day. The recovery from a tonsillectomy is much more involved. In fact, Dr. Yunker uses words like “brutal and miserable” when describing the procedure to parents. That’s because it’s all about location. The tonsils are located at the back of the throat and therefore move every time the child breathes or swallows. It’s like a scab on your knee, when it moves it breaks open and hurts and takes longer to heal. So recovery from a tonsillectomy is very painful and can take up to two weeks. Removing the adenoid is much simpler because it’s higher up, behind the nose, and doesn’t move.

So, parents in partnership with their child’s doctor have to really figure out where the breathing problems are coming from and determine just how much difficulty their child is having. It’s also a good idea to rule out any other issues first. Could the breathing problems be related to allergies? Would a nasal spray help? Remember, surgery of any kind is a risk and it’s important to explore all other options before your child goes under the knife.


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