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Can a Tonsillectomy Correct Sleep Apnea?

Posted On December 21, 2013
December 21, 2013

I scream, you scream, we all scream, for ice cream. Well at least it is a welcome aspect of the recovery process when one of the most prevalent surgeries is performed. Current statistics clock approximately 500,000 people undergoing this procedure every year. Inevitably, we all know someone who has or will have a tonsillectomy.

For the most part, a tonsillectomy is a surgery that removes an individual’s tonsils after experiencing five to seven infections during the course of a year. An adenoidectomy removes adenoids for the same reason. And yet according to the American Society of Otolaryngology, more than 80 percent of tonsillectomies performed today are done to lessen the severity of sleep disorders that are affected by breathing. Reason? Tonsils and adenoids can become severely enlarged after multiple infections and in turn, block an individual’s airway when they sleep. The sleep disorder in question is primarily obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is characterized by the individual suffering multiple episodes in which he or she stops breathing each hour during the course of a night’s sleep.

Both a tonsillectomy and an adenoidectomy are primarily used as treatment options for children who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea but not recommended to resolve a symptom of just snoring. There have been numerous studies evaluating tonsillectomy as a treatment option for children with sleep apnea. Studies have shown that approximately 75% of children with true sleep apnea will have a reduction of their cessation of breathing episodes 6 months after surgery. In a recent study published in the JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, researchers discovered that 21% of children who had undergone a tonsillectomy to treat their OSA still had significant disease after surgery. They concluded that it is vitally important to evaluate the severity of the sleep apnea before surgery to best be able to predict success.

On the other hand, studies involving adults with OSA utilizing tonsillectomy as a treatment option are few and far between. One older study conducted at the University of Ulm in Germany evaluated a small pool of patients, 11 total, who had a tonsillectomy as their only treatment for sleep apnea when it was associated with significantly enlarged tonsils. They concluded that enlarged tonsils did not necessarily cause the OSA but in carefully selected patients it was a viable option of treatment. In 2012, Australian researchers  studied whether a combination of tonsillectomy and nasal surgery helped adults with OSA. Unfortunately, this group also only evaluated a small number of patients. Their results showed that having both surgeries performed simultaneously were effective for the study patients but further study would be advisable. Until mores studies are performed, for children, a tonsillectomy can be a viable treatment for sleep apnea, but the jury is still out for adults.

If you or a loved one are wondering whether or not a tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy is a viable option for you, we are here to help. Please contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 to schedule a free consultation.


About Phoebe Ochman

Phoebe Ochman, Director of Communications for Sleep Apnea Treatment Centers of America, manages all content and communications for the company.
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