Having your kid undergo a tonsillectomy to help with breathing problems during sleep or recurring throat infections might do more harm than good in the long-run, a new study suggests.
A team led by researchers in Denmark has found that getting tonsils removed as a child may make an individual three times more like to get upper respiratory infections as an adult. These include colds, rhinitis and bronchitis, according to the Independent.
As for adenoids, which are glands at the roof of the mouth that are usually removed to help with middle ear infections, researchers discovered that childhood surgery to remove those may make a person twice as likely to get chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and doubles a person's risk of getting conjunctivitis, the Telegraph reports.
To conduct the study, researchers looked at the health records of 1.2 million Danish children between 1979 and 1999. Among the individuals, 60,400 had their tonsils removed, their adenoids removed, or both, by the age of nine. Researchers checked back on the children as adults, comparing the health of those who underwent any of the surgeries to those who kept their adenoids and/or tonsils.
In total, the study, which is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Otolaryngology, found that getting rid of these two parts of the lymphatic system may make a person more susceptible to getting 28 different types of diseases—some of which aren't even related to the airways, such as parasitic infections, eye problems and skin diseases. This implies that not having your tonsils or your adenoids might indirectly influence your immune system's ability to deal with other sicknesses—with the effects not showing up until later in life, the Independent reports.
"Our results show increased risks for long-term diseases after surgery [and] support delaying tonsil and adenoid removal if possible, which could aid normal immune system development in childhood and reduce these possible later-life disease risks,” said the study's lead author, Dr. Shaun Bayers from the University of Melbourne.
The study's authors say they aren't surprised by the findings—since we're likely born with tonsils and adenoids for a reason. “Given that tonsils and adenoids are part of the lymphatic system and play a key role both in normal development of the immune system and in pathogen screening during childhood and early life, it is not surprising that their removal may impair pathogen detection and increase risk of later respiratory and infectious diseases.” Located in the back of the throat, tonsils fight infection by being the first point of contact with germs that could make us sick. Once they're in contact, they activate our immune system to start doing its job. Meanwhile, adenoids help fight infections by creating white blood cells.
Based on the findings, the researchers urge parents to seek alternatives first before opting to get their child's tonsils or adenoids removed.
Each year, about 15 million kids in the U.S. under the age of 15 get surgery to take out their tonsils.