Tonsil Removal and Sleep Apnea

Patient Expert

Years ago, it was almost standard procedure for a child to have his or her tonsils removed, especially if the child suffered from sore throats and colds. The number of tonsillectomies began to decline in the sixties. The sore throats and colds, for the most part, disappeared as the child grew older, and tonsil removal was no longer deemed necessary.

Now, however, tonsillectomies are back in favor as a treatment for sleep apnea in children. As well as being a cause of sore throats and colds, enlarged tonsils block the air passages causing nighttime breathing problems. Other problems caused by enlarged tonsils are problems swallowing, fever and swollen glands.

What Are Tonsils?

Tonsils are small growths of tissue found on both sides at the back of the throat. They are meant to trap bacteria and produce antibodies to fight off infections.

Unfortunately, when tonsils become infected, they swell and cause even further problems, including sore throat and tonsillitis. If this is a recurring problem, it may become necessary to have the tonsils removed, especially if they are so enlarged that they are interfering with the child's breathing or causing sleep apnea.


When a tonsillectomy is performed, it is common procedure to remove the adenoids as well. Adenoids are lumps of tissue situated at the back of the nose, and, like tonsils, can become infected and swollen. They are also intended to capture bacteria and prevent infection. If they become infected and swell they can hamper breathing and cause snoring.

It's estimated that about 10 percent of children snore, and, of these, 1 percent may suffer from sleep apnea. Most of the time, this sleep apnea can be cured with a tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy. If you are concerned about your child's snoring, or if he or she gasps for breath at night, talk to your doctor about these procedures. It could improve your child's health and life.