Tonsils out, air in!

Tonsillectomy & AdenoidectomyLast Friday my just-turned-four-year-old son had surgery to get his tonsils and adenoids removed. Technically the procedure is called combined tonsillectomy / adenoidectomy, but it’s quite a mouthful to say (no pun intended).

Why did we opt for the surgery? The poor little guy has had giant tonsils for most of his life, not a reason in itself to remove them surgically according to most pediatricians. However, he’s been a recurring victim of sore throats (the dreaded tonsillitis), strep throats, halitosis (bad breath), poor appetite due to back-of-the-mouth obstruction, and drum roll… sleep apnea. Large tonsils can indeed obstruct the airway and deprive a child of much needed sleep. The consequences of sleep apnea in children are numerous:
- Sleepiness
- Crankiness, due to lack of sleep (imagine sleeping four hours a night, every night…)
- Overall fatigue and lack of energy
- Poor concentration, ADHD
- Bedwetting

When my son started complaining EVERY morning after he got up that he was “tired”, I knew I had to do something to help him regain a healthy and active childhood. Even though today tonsillectomies happen a lot less often than 30 years ago, it was easy to get our health insurance plan to approve the surgery, due to my son’s poor physical state.

Now, my advice to all parents out there… Whoever tells you that tonsil / adenoid surgery is a piece of cake is either not a parent, or hasn’t had that surgery performed on them (and if they do, they just don’t remember it). Surgery IS surgery, and it comes with plenty of risks. There’s nothing reassuring in having to sign papers minutes before the procedure allowing the medical staff to perform transfusion if necessary, and indicating that your child doesn’t have an “advanced directive”. It only takes 30 to 45 minutes to perform this surgery, but that will feel like the longest 30 minutes of your life.

As for the recovery part, it’s no piece of cake (lots of popsicles, though!). As a parent, it’s physically and emotionally draining to see your own child in pain, and you know they’re in pain when they have a prescription for Tylenol with codeine. The two main things to watch out for are bleeding and dehydration. My son suffered from so much swelling in his mouth and throat that he refused to swallow anything by the day after the surgery. He ended up being admitted in the hospital for more treatment. He now feels a little better every day and I know that in a few weeks, he’ll have completely recovered, but in the meantime, it’s baby steps.

Now, am I hoping for a miracle cure with this surgery for all sleep apnea side-effects I mentioned above? You bet, at least for most of them! The proof will be in the pudding, and we’re stocked up on that too!

If your child has had tonsil and/or adenoid surgery, I’d love to hear from you.

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31 responses to “Tonsils out, air in!

  1. Pingback: How to make a yogurt bunny – a klutzy moment « Perfecting motherhood

  2. My daughter had enlarged adenoids too and when we went to the ENT specialist, he told us 80% of her airways was blocked because of the enlarged adenoids. We recommended surgery right away and also ear tube. My hubby said no way. After doing tons of research online, we went and saw a naturapathic dr and he gave her homepathic medicine and within 2 weeks she way better with her breathing. After one month on homeopathic medicine is was better. Wish I could have help you. Good luck.

    • I agree with you that surgery is not always necessary. For us, the fact that my son’s tonsils were a recurring site of infection that could only be treated with antibiotics every month or so, was definitely a problem. I’m an active user of homeopathic medecine for specific ailments and believe that they do work in those cases. I tried homeopathy treatment for the tonsils to no avail. You just have to do what is in the best interest of your child in the end.

    • my 2 year old breathes so horribly and only through his mouth, he can be heard from across the room, I saw a ENT doctor who said that he has 80% blocked nasal pass from his adnoids…He woke up this morning and is choking on nasal drip I feel so horrible, I am so scared to have him go through surgery terrified doesnt describe it, I have anxiety attacks.

      • I completely understand how you feel because that was me a year and a half ago. And again this past fall when my son had to have hernia surgery. There’s nothing simple and easy about surgery. Tonsil and adenoid removal surgery has great results but it is VERY painful. Kids wake up crying and disoriented from the surgery (that’s normal but freaky) and they are in tremendous pain for several days. Ask anyone who’s had those parts removed as an adult and they’ll tell you how much it hurts. It hurts just as much and probably more in kids. They just block that painful memory out of their mind when they grow up and only remember the popsicle part.

        My son looked sickely for a long time because of his very large tonsils. He always got sore throats, didn’t eat well, slept poorly and was always tired and cranky. Getting the tonsils and adenoids out was the best thing I could have done for him. Today he’s thriving, enjoys eating, can taste the foods and sleeps very well (no more snoring or sleep apnea). I think the key is to find a surgeon you trust and get it done when you think you’re ready. Good luck!

  3. Pingback: Perfecting motherhood

  4. I agree that surgery is never “no big deal”. When my eldest daughter has her tonsils and adenoids removed it loosened up so much sludge that she started having asthma complications and also ended up back in the hospital. Hope the rest of the recovery went well.

    • I had so many adults who told me getting their tonsils out as a kid didn’t hurt, I was suspicious. My husband got his out removed a few years ago and said it was very painful for several days. So I asked the surgeon what he thought and his answer was pretty straightforward. Yes, it does hurt like hell but our as children our memory suppresses that part and we only remember the good part (i.e. the ice cream and popsicles). I’d definitely warn parents to expect to see their child in pain after such surgery. As for hernia surgery, that was a lot less painful and my kid was bouncing off the walls not even a couple of days later!

      • I had my adenoids remove at the age of 10 and it hurts… Couldn’t swallow and Had to do soft diet.
        Cleavers is suppose to be good for tonsils and adenoids problem..wish i knew that back then.
        The tonsil and adenoids gets swollen because they are a part of the lymphatic system or the site where we fight infections so swelling is
        a sign that they are fighting an infection. Herbs that cleanse the blood would be good also. I know sometimes surgery is needed but as one nurse said it has become a routine surgery and is often recommended instead of finding the cause of the infection/bacteria or whatever is causing the inflammation. In our case it was food allergies. Good luck

      • I’ve noticed pediatricians have become a lot more conservative when it comes to removing tonsils and adenoids, when it seemed half the kids 30 years ago got theirs removed. I waited until my son was 4 to discuss possible surgery with the pediatrician and after trying homeopathy and other remedies without results. My son was on antibiotics every other month for infected tonsils that wouldn’t clear but I think the key factor was sleep deprivation and apnea, which affected his awake behavior. It’s definitely a light decision to make but my goal was to make my child healthy again and only the surgery did it.

  5. I too am a single mom of 4, my youngest is 22 months. Yesterday she had her adenoids removed and ear tubes put in. We have been through months and months of ear infections back to back no relief. Antibiotics every one from amoxicillin to rocefin. I tried homeopathic remedies, chiropractor adjustments. Missed so much work that I am not jobless, let go day before daughters surgery:( she suffered from sleep apnea and in fact we were up 2-4 times a night from her waking up startled from her breathing.
    I am anti surgery and she is the only child out of all 4 that’s needed it. Point is, I for the first time in nearly 2 years was able to sleep through the night, even more important my sweet girl could breathe!!! She was also able to sleep all night!! I wish I would have just done this sooner!! Here’s to praying for all other single moms struggling to maintain a job and household with no help while taking care of ill children/child. As well as any other child that struggles with this. It’s a scary, frustrating experience. I am just so glad I did the surgery even though I had knots in my tummy the whole time, I had peace that I exhausted all other measures.

    • Like many people, I find surgery scary, especially for little kids, but it was the best decision I made for my son. He was a changed boy after it, healthwise and behavior wise. But people need to know there can be complications after surgery (like my son had) and that the recovery is painful and the painkillers really help. Last year my son had to have another surgery to repair a small hernia and having the past surgical experience didn’t make it easier, but the recovery was a piece of cake.

  6. Our son is 3 1/2 and getting adenoids/tonsils removed in a few days. Biggest thing I am wondering is what to tell him to prepare for surgery. He is actually looking forward to being able to breathe through his nose. I am feeling conflicted about putting him through this, although we do feel that it is the most direct, effective way to help him be and stay healthier. How do you address the pain without causing too much distress? I worry my son will feel betrayed or mislead somehow. How do kids react afterwards?judithchristen

    • That’s a very good question. I don’t recall telling my son he’d be in pain afterwards (I don’t think any kid wants to hear that just before surgery) but I did tell him afterwards to let me know if he needed anything. And I stayed with him the whole time, so I knew when he wasn’t recovering properly and I needed to take him to the ER for complications. The antibiotics and steroids he got in the hospital worked within a few hours and he was a lot better after that. I think most kids don’t have those complications after the surgery but the pain is there and you have to be on top of the pain meds. It makes them very sleepy, and that’s one way to take the pain away. And you’ll see in the end, it was really worth it. My son was a completely different kid after the surgery. No regrets. Good luck!

  7. Help! My son has all the same symptoms, doesn’t eat, slow growth, black circles under eyes from lack of sleep, cranky all the time, tired. The other night he said “Mamma, I need more air in my mouth” he’s 3 1/2, it broke my heart. The ALLERGIST did an ex ray and you can clearly see his airway get very small by what I am told is his adenoids, but our ENT didn’t even take an ex ray and he is writting us off as having only allergies. My question is, did your ENT ever take an x ray? I am told an x ray is pretty common. I am meeting with the ENT today to review the x ray he hasnt even SEEN yet!

    • We took no X-ray but my son had giant tonsils since the age of 2 and they would get infected several times a year. We waited to see if this body would grow into the tonsils but the tonsils just seemed to get bigger as he grew old. By the time he was 4, he had bad breath all the time, he didn’t have an appetite and complained his throat hurt when he swallowed, and he slept poorly (he moved around a lot and had clear signs of sleep apnea). Those physical symptoms were enough to get a referral to the ENT. When the ENT examined him, he said he should have his tonsils removed and he’d take off the adenoids at the same time. So we had a tonsil problem first, not an adenoid issue. Maybe that’s what helped. As your son’s mother, it sounds like your have legitimate reasons to push for surgery to improve his well being. Otherwise I’d ask for a second opinion. It’s still a very common surgery to solve a common problem. Good luck!

    • Be persistent. Get referred to another ENT If you have too.

  8. My son just turned 4 years and had his tonsils out on July 30. Scariest part was the waking up from surgery. He didn’t want to eat or drink the day of surgery but got a popcicle into him and some water. He was just on tylenol and advil, alternating every 3 hrs. Was up playing with dad that night. Slept all night at hotel close to hospital. Next day when we got home he had kraft dinner for lunch. Also kept him hydrated by having tea parties. Kept pain meds up for 3 days of piggy backing then went to advil 3 times daily. Has been eating and drinking more than he has forever and now on day 10 have given up on trying to keep hime from running around and no pain meds. Very positive outcome for us. Humidifier in bedroom is a must. His go to has been pancakes. Still not allowing really hard foods. Good luck and not all kids react badly to the surgery, we just hear about them more. I was also a worried mom.

    • I agree, this surgery has no complications in 90% of the cases, so most kids will be fine afterwards with a little pain medication. My son had complications but the problem was corrected very quickly with steroids and antibiotics and he was just fine after that. I have no regret doing the surgery, seeing how much better my son did after it.

  9. if you dont mind me asking you say your son was a different child after the surgery – can you please expand on this ? My son is having surgery on the 28th – he is always sick – eats poorly, bad breath, sore throats etc – at night it is like he is snoring like an old man – he has been speech delayed as well.

    • My son got his appetite back and grew an inch in a couple of months. He didn’t have sleep apnea anymore so he slept better and was a,lot less tired and cranky during the day. He had no more throat infections so he didn’t have to take antibiotics every few months. Even though he had a few complications after the surgery, it was all worth it.

  10. Glad your son got better. My four year old son just had his tonsils and adenoids removed on Monday, Sept. 23. We have been having a hard time getting him to drink and eat. He wakes hysterically at times and doctor thought it could be from the codeine and suggested alternating between that and reg. Tylenol. He has a alight fever of 99.1. What made you take your son to ER while recovering? I’m tempted to because I just don’t know if he is getting enough fluids in or not. It’s a tough decision. He still urinates but only about 2 Times a day. Maybe I’m just overreacting and expecting him to be immediately better. Thanks for any thoughts you may have.

    • I think the doctor may be right about the drugs making your son cry but he might also be in pain if the drug wears off overnight. Advil may work better than Tylenol.

      I took my son to the ER because he refused to eat or drink anything and looked lethargic. He did have a slight fever and things just didn’t seem right. You know, when as your child’s parent, you know this better than anyone else. I didn’t want to look paranoid but he was getting worse than better and that’s what did it. After an IV of antibioticsand steroids, he felt a lot better the next day and was drinking and eating. I took him to the ER because it was late in the evening but I think a day visit can do the same. Doctors have oral steroids that work in one dose to reduce the swelling in the throat. Good luck with your son. Just remember he’ll be so,much better once he has healed.

  11. My son who is 3 just had t/a surgery yesterday. He was 3/4 blocked in both t and a. He did well with recovery up until dinner time last night and now refuses to eat or drink even Popsicles..we were already admitted for overnight but it’s lookin like another stay is needed. This has been an awful expierence to say the least. And wish I would have never listened to the people that said this was a piece of cake! Thank you for your post!!

    • I knew upfront it would be painful. Ask anyone who had this surgery as an adult and they will tell you about the pain. Kids hurt just as much. The surgeon had warned me that people who had the surgery done as children had no memories of pain because their brain had blocked them out. Even my son three years later doesn’t remember how much he hurt, although he remembers the hospital stay. As for the complications, I think about 80 to 90% of the kids don’t have any, so it’d be great to know what to do if you’re in the 10%. I bet your son will feel a lot better in a week and you’ll see tremendous improvement in his sleep, eating habits, etc, in a few weeks. In the end, it really is worth it for the health of your child.

  12. It really is different for every child. My 4 year old just had her tonsils and adenoids removed today. never had strep and only 3 ear infections, but had most of the symptoms of OSA. To our surprise she had been eating and drinking all evening. Mac n cheese, pudding, raspberries, juice and milk. I’m a little nervous at what the next 2 weeks will bring though. I am thankful we went through with the surgery, her quality of life will be so much better!

    • I’m glad to hear your daughter’s surgery went great! I think as parents, we’re the best judges of our children’s health and well being. I think kids do OK the first day as they still have the anesthesia and pain killing drugs from the surgery in their system. Your daughter will definitely enjoy a tonsil and adenoid free life once she fully recovers.

      • Hm, yes I hadn’t thought of that. Tomorrow the hospital drugs may wear off and reality might set in. Thank you for warning. I am wondering if anyone has any information on “adenoid facies?” I believe my daughter has these facial traits, and I’m wondering if her face will now take a normal structural shape? Or is the damage permanant?

      • I wouldn’t know but I’d think your pediatrician would be able to help. Facial bones change a lot throughout adolescence (that’s why dentists don’t recommend braces usually until then), so you never know.

  13. My three year old son is scheduled to have his tonsils and adenoids removed in two and a half days. I have been trying to convince myself for the past three months that we could help him without surgery, but I’m realizing that this seems to be the only option. He snores at night and almost always sleeps with his mouth open, he sounds stuffed up a lot, and above all he has struggled with sleep problems for as long as I can remember. His behavior has been deeply effected, and it has greatly affected the entire family. I have a lot of health anxiety, and I am so worried about the anesthesia. I also am not looking forward to seeing my poor baby in pain and confusion post surgery. Can anyone help with some encouraging words? I’m so scared and even have these scary thoughts regarding the surgery.

    • I think it’s perfectly normal for you to worry about this surgery. Kids do really well and recover a lot faster than adults. Just watch for possible complications but all in all, kids enjoy the TLC to make them feel better.

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