Researchers at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research have found that 7 of 8 children who have their tonsils removed did not benefit from the surgery. Their findings are based on medical records of over 1.6 million children in the U.K. who had tonsillectomies between 2005 and 2016. The study shows that only 11.7% actually needed the operation.
The study, published in British Journal of General Practice, revealed that a total of 32,500 children get their tonsils out each year, costing the NHS an annual £36.9 million.
According to U.K. health policy, a child must report more than seven sore throats within one year, five sore throats per year over the span of two years, or three sore throats per year for three years in a row, to justify a tonsillectomy. But, researchers found that 67% of the children studied suffered a number of sore throats less than the recommended amount to receive a tonsillectomy, making a huge portion of the operations unnecessary.
However, researchers also found that many children who would benefit from a tonsillectomy aren’t actually undergoing the operation. Their findings show that out of 15,764 children who reported a sufficient number of sore throats, only 2,144 (13.6%) had the surgery.
“Research shows that children with frequent sore throats usually suffer fewer sore throats over the next year or two,” Tom Marshall, Professor of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Birmingham, said. “In those children with enough documented sore throats, the improvement is slightly quicker after tonsillectomy, which means surgery is justified. But research suggests children with fewer sore throats don’t benefit enough to justify surgery, because the sore throats tend to go away anyway.”
Perhaps these findings will both affect how pediatricians diagnose children as well as educate parents on when/if a tonsillectomy is necessary for their child.