If you have had your tonsils removed in childhood, you may want to read this. A new study by the University of Melbourne in Australia and University of Copenhagen in Denmark found that removing tonsils and adenoids in childhood increases the risk of diseases like asthma, influenza and pneumonia. The scientists examined the long-term effects of these common paediatric surgeries for the first time.
The adenoids and tonsils are strategically positioned in the nose and throat respectively to act as the first line of defence, helping to recognise airborne pathogens like bacteria and viruses, and begin the immune response to clear them from the body.
“We calculated disease risks depending on whether adenoids, tonsils or both were removed in the first 9 years of life, because this is when these tissues are most active in the developing immune system,” said Sean Byars from University of Melbourne.
The analysis showed that tonsillectomy was associated with an almost tripled relative risk for diseases of the upper respiratory tract. These included asthma, influenza, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder or COPD, the umbrella term for diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
Adenoidectomy was found to be linked with more than doubled relative risk of COPD and a nearly doubled relative risk of upper respiratory tract diseases and conjunctivitis. The absolute risk was also almost doubled for upper respiratory diseases but corresponded to a small increase for COPD, as this is a rarer condition in the community generally.
“The association of tonsillectomy with respiratory disease later in life may therefore be considerable for those who have had the operation,” said Jacobus Boomsma from University of Copenhagen.
The study suggests that short-term benefits of these surgeries may not continue up to the age of 30, apart from the reduced risk for tonsillitis and sleep disorders (for adenoidectomy). Instead, the long-term risks for abnormal breathing, and sinusitis were either significantly higher after surgery or not significantly different. The researchers note that there will always be a need to remove tonsils and adenoids when those conditions are severe.