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On Call: Taking His Tonsils Out

Q. Our child always seems to have a sore throat and swollen tonsils. Is a tonsillectomy a good idea?

A. Three or more tonsil infections in a year could make him a candidate, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery. But while tonsillectomies are generally safe, you need to weigh the risks. Complications can include bleeding, pain, dehydration, infection, breathing problems, and voice changes. Add to that the risks of anesthesia, and you see why doctors don't like to operate unless it's truly necessary.

When it comes to chronic sore throats, doctors now try other treatments first, from antibiotics (if the sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection) to acetaminophen or lozenges.

In other cases, however, surgery can be a good idea. The most common reason I suggest it is when patients' tonsils are so big that they have trouble sleeping, something called obstructive sleep apnea. My son Zack had this: He snored outrageously every night, gasping for air. But since having a tonsillectomy at age 4, he's slept soundly. Kids with persistent ear infections can also benefit.

Bottom line: Talk to your doctor and have him refer you to a pediatric otolaryngologist. Together, you can figure out if surgery's worth the risks.