Just When I Thought They Were Out, They Grow Right Back In
December 17, 2008 6:58 AM   Subscribe

Would removing tonsils get rid of recurring sinus infections and can or cannot tonsils grow back? (Semi-long question with confusing & contradictory info inside)

So when my daughter was around 8 months old (approx 10 years ago - she's 11 now), she got a sinus/ear infection, took an antibiotic and got better. Then she got another, took an antibiotic, got better, and then another and so on for another 18 months. Tried the tubes in the ears, tried the little machine that sprays mist, tried it all and finally the ENT we were referred to (at this point she's two) says she needs to have sinus surgery to scrape out her sinuses because they are impacted and to have her tonsils and adenoids out. We take her in and it's a two part deal. I distinctly remember the ENT telling me that the 2nd part would be better than the 1st, but it was the tonsillectomy that actually hurt more than the sinus surgery. She goes back for the 2nd round of sinus surgery. The ENT later calls me to say that they cultured the mucus in her sinuses and that she had an antibiotic resistant form of strep(!) and that he sprayed in there with an antibiotics and she should be fine.

Despite my natural pessimism toward all things, she actually is. Until last January when the cycle begins again. I'm sent to another ENT who says that too much time has passed for her earlier problems to be related to the current situation. And then he says something else: "her tonsils look a little swollen - that could be part of the problem". I say "they better not" and tell him they were removed. He says no way were they removed, these are full blown tonsils.

I sent away for her records from the hospital to see just what she did have done and in the meantime I called my ex-husband who confirmed that yes, we were told that her tonsils and adenoids were removed. So can they can they grow back? To full size? And how would tonsils cause sinus problems anyway? The more I think about it, the more none of this makes any sense.

I understand that none of this is life or death, but daughter does have hearing problems and dyslexia and I think both were caused by not being able to hear very well during her early years and it seems like both are getting worse. Would love non-MD 2nd opinions.
posted by katyjack to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
According to this page on kidshealth.org, if a particular procedure (intracapsular tonsillectomy) is used, "Since residual tonsil tissue remains, there is a very slight chance that it can re-enlarge or become infected and require more tonsil surgery, but this occurs in less than 1% of children undergoing intracapsular tonsillectomy."
posted by ocherdraco at 7:18 AM on December 17, 2008

Tonsils can definitely grow back. I had mine removed when I was six. I still don't quite understand the reason why -- I was having trouble with my hearing, so they removed my tonsils. Whatever, it worked. Anyway, fast forward 20 years. I was at the dentist, and she says to me "Wow, you have nice pink tonsils". I sat up, shocked... "What? They were removed!!!" My dentist explained to me that tonsils can and do grow back. And sure enough, she showed them to me -- i've seen it with my own two eyes. And I know for a fact they were most definitely removed. They haven't caused me any trouble since that fateful day when I was 6, however.
posted by cgg at 7:41 AM on December 17, 2008

The reason the tonsils are related to sinus infections is because they are located in the passage through which the sinuses drain into the throat. If they become enlarged, they can block off this passage, which enables mucus to build up in the sinuses. If the passages are narrow to begin with it doesn't take much inflammation for the tonsils to cause problems.

The reason drainage is important is because if mucus builds up back there, bacteria which would normally be flushed out get to grow, causing a sinus infection. Bacteria will do this the first chance they get, but because healthy sinuses have adequate drainage, there isn't enough time or moisture in there for them to do their thing. But if you get a cold, the sinus tissues produce mucus, and if that mucus doesn't drain away, you get a secondary, bacterial infection. If the sinus passages are really small--like mine were before I had surgery--a sinus infection which would normally clear up with a bout of antibiotics in another person can last for years.

As the ENT said, there is a two-step solution for this. The first is to remove the tonsils, since you can do just fine without them. The second is to go in and rout out the sinus passages by drilling away at the bone. This will widen the passages, enabling more effective drainage.

So yeah, your ENT does seem to be on the right track here, and yeah, tonsils can grow back.

My tonsils were never really an issue, but I was born with a deviated septum and abnormally small nasal passages, so pretty much every time I got a cold it turned into sinusitis, and though antibiotics could usually bring me back to normal, I got constant pressure headaches and was always coughing up mucus. I got surgery two years ago and haven't had sinusitis since.
posted by valkyryn at 7:48 AM on December 17, 2008

Another thing: the reason sinus drainage is connected to hearing is because the ears are connected to the throat through the sinuses. This is why when you hold your nose and try to blow it, you feel pressure in your ears. Most people don't know it, but under the brain there's actually quite a bit of empty space. If the sinuses are blocked with mucus, this can eventually reach the ears, filling cavities which are supposed to be empty. This impairs sound transmission. If things get really bad, the pressure from the sinuses can actually rupture the eardrum. Which is also bad for your hearing.

So if your tonsils are blocking your sinus passages, removing them can indeed improve your hearing.
posted by valkyryn at 7:52 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

past post
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 8:46 AM on December 17, 2008

Interesting info - my daughter also has a deviated septum but the ENT says even if surgery for that is eventually warranted, it's best to wait until she's past 18, so I guess she's dealing with a 1-2 punch. I inclined to think they were removed and that they did grow back simply because she was fine for so many years. Guess I'll find out when I get the records.
posted by katyjack at 9:00 AM on December 17, 2008

My 6 year old had constant sinus infections, which lead to apnea (and all it's coattails), hearing problems, and even to a decreased blood/oxy level.

We had the tonsils and ads removed and (after two days of throwing up all the draining mucous), it's like we have a new child. I haven't seen such a dramatic turnaround in any procedure, before or since.
posted by unixrat at 10:09 AM on December 17, 2008

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