New Treatment Zaps Tonsillitis
Electronic Treatment May Someday Replace Traditional Tonsillectomy
Sept. 19, 2003 -- An electronic probe may soon replace the
scalpel in treating tonsillitis and may put a major dent in lime gelatin orders
at hospital cafeterias.
A new study shows a radiofrequency treatment currently used to
reduce enlarged tonsils associated with obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep
disorder associated with snoring, may also be a safe and effective alternative
to traditional tonsillectomy for treating people with chronic sore throats or
Researchers say more than 400,000 tonsillectomies are performed
each year, making it one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures.
Despite its popularity, conventional tonsillectomy techniques have changed
little in the past 50 years, and the procedure is known for producing a lot of
postoperative pain that requires a long recovery time.
The electronic alternative treatment involves using a
blunt-tipped probe that delivers a low-temperature dose of radio waves to the
tonsils to promote shrinkage. Because the procedure doesn't create an open
wound as in traditional tonsillectomy, there is less postoperative pain and
less recovery time. And in most cases, the patient doesn't require
More Waves, Less Pain
In the first major test of the radiofrequency technique in
treating people with persistent sore throats, researchers studied the
effectiveness of the procedure on 85 patients.
Twelve of the patients were children between the ages of 4 and
12 years, and the rest were adults with an average age of 32. All of the
patients were recommended for tonsillectomy because of persistent tonsillitis,
obstructive sleep apnea, or enlarged tonsils.
The results are to be presented at the American Academy of
Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery Annual Meeting in Orlando.
Overall, researchers found 92% of the patients treated with the
new technique had an improvement in tonsil-related symptoms, and most said they
would undergo the procedure again and would recommend it to friends.
After about 13 months of follow-up, 78 of the patients had a
significant reduction in sore throats, number of tonsillitis episodes, use of
antibiotics, and a reduction in snoring and sleep apnea symptoms.
Tonsil size was reduced in all patients, and both the patients
and doctor noted that the initial effects of the treatment began to emerge
about two weeks after the procedure. Shrinkage of the tonsils continues for up
to nine months in some patients.
All patients were given narcotic pain relievers after the
procedure, but the vast majority of patients switched to nonprescription pain
relievers, such as Tylenol or Motrin, within the first 24 to 48 hours after
No bleeding or other major complications were reported. Eleven
of the patients required anesthesia during the procedure, including three
patients that had to be re-treated.
Researchers say the results suggest further research on the use
of radiofrequency as an alternative to tonsillectomy is needed. Future studies
should directly compare the safety and effectiveness of the two treatments in