Mr Andrew Camilleri says...
Tonsillectomy was a very common procedure to treat children and adults with recurrent sore throats.
In the 1950s, 200,000 tonsillectomies were carried out every year4. However, in 1994-5, there were only 77,604 tonsillectomies and in 2008-9 only 49,187 tonsillectomies took place in UK5. This is probably down to the increased use of antibiotics.
However, the hospital admission rate for sore throats has increased from 49,740 in 2001-2 to 76,084 in 2010-116. So are we taking too few tonsils out now?
Although tonsillitis is the main reason for tonsillectomy, the recognition of sleep apnoea syndrome has made this the commonest indication in pre-school children.
The tonsils are usually removed between attacks of sore throat unless the airway is threatened. An occasional reason for tonsillectomy is deep crypts in the tonsil which collect food debris (white spots) that can cause bad breath.
Patients with asthma7 or psoriasis8 attacks can get significant relief from those diseases after tonsillectomy.
The effect of tonsillectomy on long term health is debated. There is a definite reduction in attacks of sore throat9.
One study found increased risk of asthma, influenza and pneumonia as well as chronic bronchitis and emphysema, but it is not clear if patients more inclined towards tonsil pain in childhood are naturally at higher risk of serious respiratory disease10.
With increasing antibiotic resistance, less antibiotic treatment is advised for tonsillitis so it is likely that the rate of tonsillectomy will rise again.