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Not Your Parents' Tonsillectomy: May 31, 2012

Having your tonsils out was something most every kid did peaking in the 1970s.

“Oh yes, we all had them done, but you know we got the popsicles in the hospital so we were happy,” says Nicole Tocket.

Thirty years ago, approximately 90% of tonsillectomies in children were done for recurrent infection. That was the case with Nicole.

“It was a constant sore throat and it was just time for them to come out,” says Tocket.

Now about 20% of surgeries are performed as a fix for sleep apnea. As the rationale for surgery has evolved, so have techniques.

“We have newer instruments that have less post-op discomfort so the kids are usually eating regular food within a few days as opposed to a week or two in the past,” says Dr. Daniel McKenna, an otolaryngologist on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

Modern tonsillectomies are kinder and gentler. Everything is done through the mouth so there are no cuts on the outside. One of the go-to techniques is called coblation, which uses radio frequency to remove tissue.

“Which is similar to cautery, which has been used for years and years and years, but it’s actually done at a much lower temperature and it can be used to actually cut the tonsils out or it can be used to melt them away. Either way the post-op discomfort is significantly less and therefore the recovery for the kids is much easier,” says Dr. McKenna.

Now the mother of twins, Nicole would like to spare her children any discomfort, should they follow in their mom’s footsteps and need their tonsils out.

“Definitely not have them go through major surgery or anything like that. If it was simple you’d be more apt to do it if there was really problems involved,” says Tocket.

It may be one of the few pains of childhood that has gotten easier over time.