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Novel Tonsillectomy Cuts Pain, Bleeding

But Tonsils Can Grow Back After Surgery
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 17, 2007 -- Within hours of having her tonsils out last February, Zelda Williams was home eating noodles by the bowlful.

The then 3-year-old had a new kind of tonsil surgery, called intracapsular tonsillectomy, and her mother says it made all the difference in her recovery.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Susan Williams tells WebMD. “She had almost no bleeding and was never really in much pain. She was completely back to normal within a few days.”

Zelda's experience may not be typical, but new research shows that kids who have the newer surgery tend to experience less postsurgical bleeding and pain than those who have traditional tonsillectomies.

Pediatric ear, nose, and throat surgeon Richard Schmidt, MD, who led the study team, tells WebMD he was not surprised by the findings.

Schmidt has been performing intracapsular tonsillectomies at the Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., for the past five years.

“It has become the standard here,” he says. "Probably eight or nine out of 10 of the tonsillectomies we do here are intracapsular as opposed to traditional.”

Tonsillectomy: Old and New

Instead of removing the whole tonsil, the newer surgery is performed with a device called a microdebrider, which removes between 90% and 95% of the tonsil. A thin layer of outer tonsil tissue, known as the capsule, is left in place to keep delicate throat muscles from being exposed.

Protecting these muscles is believed to reduce pain and postoperative bleeding.

But leaving some tonsil tissue behind means that there is a chance the tonsils will grow back and that a second surgery will be needed.

“The risk is small, but it’s definitely a downside to this procedure,” Schmidt says.

Schmidt and colleagues reviewed the cases of 2,944 children who had tonsillectomies with or without adenoid removal at the Delaware hospital between 2002 and 2005. Just more than 1,700 had the intracapsular surgery and 1,200 had traditional procedures.

They report that three times as many children in the traditional tonsillectomy group experienced bleeding more than 24 hours after surgery (3.4% vs. 1.1%), and four times as many required additional surgery to control the bleeding (2% vs. 0.5%).

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