For decades, doctors removed the tonsils and adenoids from children who suffered from chronic strep throat infections. The reason is that the tonsils and adenoids trigger a first-line immune response for pathogens entering the respiratory tract, and can become chronically inflamed during our early years.
It probably seemed like a no-brainer to remove organs that don’t perform any essential purpose in favor of happier kids, but a recent study published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery suggests kids who are missing their tonsils could be at risk for more illnesses in the future.
The study is one of the first of its kind, but the massive dataset of around 1.2 Danish individuals lends serious weight to the results.
“Given that tonsils and adenoids are part of the lymphatic system and play a key role both in the normal development of the immune system and in pathogen screening during childhood and early-life,3 it is not surprising that their removal may impair pathogen detection and increase risk of later respiratory and infectious diseases,” they conclude.
Researchers followed the health of participants from birth to at least age 10, keeping up with some until the age of 30, and found that those who had their tonsils removed before age 9 were 3x more likely to suffer from allergic or infectious upper respiratory tract diseases like asthma, flu, and pneumonia. An adenoidectomy during the same period was associated with a two-fold higher rate of those diseases, plus COPD and conjunctivitis.
In light of the results, the doctors involved in the study conclude that the procedures should be avoided when other treatments are available, and if options run out, the procedures should be delayed for as long as possible to allow a child’s immune system to develop further.
“The growing body of research on developmental origins of disease has convincingly demonstrated that even small perturbations to fetal and childhood growth and development can have lifelong consequences for general health.”
So, you might be screwed, but at least you can save your kids from the same fate!