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© Borgis - New Medicine 2/2002, s. 61-63
Mieczysław Chmielik, Anna Bielicka, Eliza Brożek
Tonsil operations in children – indications and contradictions
Department of Paediatric Otorhinolaryngology, The Medical University of Warsaw, Poland
Head: prof. Mieczysław Chmielik M.D.
Adenoidectomy, tonsillectomy and tonsillotomy were and still are the most common surgical procedures performed in Paediatric Otorhinolaryngology. The aim of this study is to justify the use of these methods in particular cases, and also specifying the complications that might occur in the postoperative period. The indications for the procedures are divided into definite and relative, while the complications are separated into two groups, early and late. The information given in the text is based on the experience of the Paediatric ENT Clinic of the Medical University of Warsaw, and the available literature.
The tonsil operations include adenotomy, tonsillotomy and tonsillectomy. The term adenotomy describes the removal of the adenoid tissue in the nasopharynx. Tonsillotomy signifies removing the palatine tonsil(s) in part. A type of tonsillotomy is wedge resection of the palatine tonsils. Tonsillectomy is the complete removal of the palatine tonsil(s) with their capsule. Considering the fact that tonsil operations are frequently a child´s first surgical experience, not only is an appropriate qualification for the operation important, but also the necessary preparation, considering coexisting diseases, especially haematological ones. It is necessary to perform these procedures under general anaesthesia in order to protect against blood and clot aspiration into the respiratory tract.
The characteristic symptoms of pharyngeal tonsil hypertrophy are: impaired breathing through the nose, resulting in mouth breathing either in daytime or during the night, snoring, the altered voice known as hyponasal speech, and in significant hypertrophy – the occurrence of sleep apnoea, causing daytime drowsiness in children and anxiety in parents. If the enlarged tonsil causes obstruction of the auditory tube, then it predis-poses to the incidence of otitis media and hearing deterioration. Nasal obstruction and mouth breathing impair physiological functioning of the nose, resulting in recurrent pharyngitis and lower respiratory tract infections. Long-term adenoid hypertrophy leads to anatomical changes of the face, described as "facies adenoidalis” (adenoidal face). This condition manifests by a protruding maxilla, constantly open mouth, lower lip muscle hypotonia, and a high palatine. Adenoid hypertrophy may occur before the first year of age. Nasal obstruction at this age may lead to life-threatening breaks in breathing, especially during upper airway infection. In such cases the age of the child is not a contraindication for adenotomy.
Direct indications for adenotomy are:
– Adenoid hypertrophy resulting in upper airway obturation and constant mouth breathing,
– Sleep apnoea symptoms,
– Adenoid hypertrophy complicated by otitis media with effusion.
Relative indications include situations in which the adenoid hypertrophy is accompanied by recurrent acute otitis media or chronic suppurative otitis media. In the last condition, unblocking the auditory tube by removing the adenoidal tissue is the first stage in preparation for further treatment. Other relative indications are dental malocclusion and orofacial growth abnormalities.
More accurate knowledge concerning tonsillar physiology and specifying indications for tonsillectomy have significantly diminished the number of these among children. Only a few such procedures are performed in the Paediatric Otolaryngology Department in Warsaw in any one year. Tonsillotomy is performed if an enlarged palatine tonsil results in obturation of the upper airways. Due to the fact that tonsillectomy has negative aspects, such as influencing certain parameters of immunological response and altering the anatomical conditions in the oral part of the pharynx, this method is more often substituted with tonsillotomy or wedge resection of the palatine tonsils. Its advantage that it is a less radical way of in resecting the lymphoid tissue, which is an important part of the immunological system in a growing organism, and very fast and beneficial results connected with the abatement of obturative symptoms. Consequently, tonsillotomy is an effective and safe operating method. Recent years have shown its growing participation in surgical treatment of the palatine tonsils, and that it is particularly welcome by parents (1). Preserving part of the lymphoid tissue in a child´s body prevents the lack of an important part of the immunological barrier in the developing organism. Additionally, Swedish researchers have shown that tonsillotomy is a less traumatic procedure from the patient´s point of view, i.e. it gives less pain and anxiety (2, 3). Opponents think that scar formation in the crypts after the partial removal of a tonsil increases the risk of focal infection in the tonsils (1). However, papers based on wider material have not supported these suggestions (4).
Considering the above statements, the direct indications for tonsillectomy are:
– Recurrent peritonsillar abscess (at least 2 episodes),
– Suspicion of malignancy,
– The necessity of reaching the retropharyngeal space.
In the case of tonsillotomy, the direct indication is the occurrence of obturative sleep apnoea, while relative indications include the presence of dysphagia or altered speech ("hot potato voice”) in children with palatine tonsil hypertrophy. Obturative sleep apnoea syndrome in children is not a universally defined problem as it is in adults. A simple method of estimating breathing impairment in children is the evaluation of night-time oxygen saturation. Its level should not decrease below 85%. Misdiagnosing the syndrome can lead to the impairment of the child´s development, as excessive breathing effort can result in short stature and poor growth, while chronic sleep disruption and hypoxygenation may contribute to behavioural abnormalities, including poor school performance, irritation, daytime hypersomnolence, learning disabilities, and problems with concentration. Sleep disturbance may also contribute to enuresis and night terrors.
Tonsil operations performed in children may be burdened with complications which can be divided into early and late. The early complications include:
– Minor and major bleeding,
– Acute impairment of airway patency,
– Anaesthesia and its complications,
– Wound infection,
– Iatrogenic injury of the uvula and palatine arches, with subsequent scar formation.

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1. Jordan J. et al.: Trendy w operacjach migdałków u dzieci. Nowa Pediatria 1999, 17(6):93-4. 2. Densert O, Desai H, Eliasson A. et al.: Tonsillotomy in children with tonsillar hypertrophy. Acta Otolaryngol 2001, 121(7):854-8. 3. Hultcrantz E. et al.: Tonsillectomy or tonsillotomy? – A randomized study comparing postoperative pain and long-term effects. Int. J. Pediatr. Otorhinolaryngol. 1999, 51(3):171-6. 4. Chmielik M. et al.: Tonsillotomia a występowanie ropni okołomigdałkowych. Otolaryng. Pol., 1995, 53 (30):295-297. 5. Rak J. i wsp.: Częściowa resekcja migdałków – tonsylotomia; analiza wskazań i ocena wyników leczenia tą metodą dzieci w Klinice Laryngologicznej Akademii Medycznej we Wrocławiu w okresie od 1989-1998. N. Ped. 1999, 17(6):152-6. 6. Windfuhr J.P.: An aberrant artery as a cause of massive bleeding following adenoidectomy. J. Laryngol. Otol. 2002, 116(4):299-300. 7. Wiatrak B.J. et al.: Complications of adenotonsillectomy in children under 3 years of age. Am. J. Otolaryngol. 1991, 12(3):170-2. 8. Allen G.C. et al.: Adenotonsillectomy in children with von Willebrand disease. Arch. Otolaryngol. Head Neck Surg. 1999, 125(5):547-51. 9. Bolger W.E. et al.: Preoperative hemostatic assessment of the adenotonsillectomy patient. Otolaryngol. Head Neck Surg. 1990, 103(3):396-405. 10. Kossowska E.: Otolaryngologia wieku rozwojowego. Warszawa, PZWL 1979.
New Medicine 2/2002
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