Novel Tonsillectomy Cuts Pain, Bleeding
But Tonsils Can Grow Back After Surgery
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
“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
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
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 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%).
Just 3% of the intracapsular surgery patients required emergency room
treatment for pain or dehydration caused by restricted fluid intake due to
pain, compared with 5.4% of patients who had traditional surgery.
But 11 children (0.6%) in the intracapsular tonsillectomy group needed
repeat tonsillectomies when tonsil tissue grew back.
This regrowth rate was in line with earlier reports suggesting that slightly
more than one in 200 children who have the surgery require second
The study is published in the September issue of the journal Archives of
Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery.