For many adolescents and teenagers, having their tonsils removed is a less-than-beloved rite of passage on par with getting braces or acne – with the promise of copious amounts of ice cream as a reward. But that ice cream may come at a serious cost. A recent study suggests that the dangers of a tonsillectomy can significantly outweigh the benefits for some patients, with the possibility of medical malpractice.


Given that over 530,000 American children have their tonsils or adenoids removed every year, this is a matter of no small importance. Tonsillectomies are recommended to resolve breathing issues such as sleep apnea or to address recurring infections like strep throat. The procedure is extremely effective in treating and curing these conditions, though as with any surgical procedure involving general anesthesia, there are always short-term risks as well.

Risks Associated With a Tonsillectomy

A new report is the first to look at the long-term impact of tonsillectomies on the overall health and well-being of patients. Published in the July 2018 issue of the journal JAMA Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery, the study involved following and monitoring the health of almost 1.2 million people in the Netherlands over the course of up to 30 years. The study participants included 60,667 people who had their tonsils or adenoids removed as children.

What researchers found gave them pause. Specifically, after comparing the health of those who had tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies with the larger cohort that did not have either of these procedures, the study’s authors found that:

  • Adenoidectomies and tonsillectomies were associated with a 2- to 3-fold increase in diseases of the upper respiratory tract.
  • Adenoidectomy was associated with approximately twice the relative risk of obstructive pulmonary disorder, upper respiratory tract diseases, and
  • Adenotonsillectomy (removal of the tonsils and the adenoids) was associated with a 17 percent increased risk of infectious diseases.

As such, the researchers concluded that tonsillectomies and related surgeries were “associated with increased long-term risks of respiratory, infectious, and allergic diseases.”

What this means for parents is that they should speak with their child’s doctor about alternative courses of treatment and inquire about whether a tonsillectomy is necessary at this juncture to address the child’s health issues. As the study’s lead author, Sean G. Byars, noted, “Watchful waiting may be a good strategy when the condition is not too severe.”

A tonsillectomy, like all surgical procedures, needs to be recommended and performed by a physician who follows the appropriate standard of care in diagnosing and treating the patient’s condition. If a doctor fails to meet this obligation and a patient suffers harm as a result, it could be the basis of a professional negligence lawsuit.

If you have questions or concerns about medical treatment you or child has received, please contact the attorneys in Sommers Schwartz Medical Malpractice Litigation Group for a free consultation to review your case.

Kenneth T. Watkins

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Kenneth T. Watkins

Kenneth T. Watkins is an accomplished trial attorney and Senior Shareholder with Sommers Schwartz. Over the course of his career, he has obtained numerous multimillion-dollar settlements. His achievements include one of the largest seven-digit medical malpractice cases in Macomb County in 2008, and his election to membership in the exclusive Million Dollar Verdict Club.