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Experts warn about opioids post tonsillectomy

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

use of opioids after tonsillectomy

Story at-a-glance -

  • A University of Michigan study revealed 59.6% of children received a prescription for opioids following tonsillectomy, even though safer pain relief options would likely have worked just as well
  • Data from 15,793 children aged 1 to 18 who underwent tonsillectomy were analyzed for the study, revealing that six in 10 had at least one prescription for opioids filled following the procedure
  • There was no difference found in risk of return visits for pain or dehydration among children taking opioids or nonopioid drugs
  • Taking opioids was associated with an increased risk of constipation and opioid overdose
  • The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery advises against the use of opioids after tonsillectomy, advising ibuprofen or acetaminophen instead
  • The benefits of tonsillectomy may not outweigh the risks in some cases

In the U.S., 289,000 children aged 15 years and younger receive a tonsillectomy each year, making it one of the most common surgeries. The procedure completely removes the tonsils and is sometimes performed along with adenoidectomy, which is surgery to remove the adenoids.

While tonsillectomy itself is associated with serious long-term risks, parents need to be aware that the painkillers given to children following the surgery can also be dangerous. This is especially true if children are prescribed opioids, powerful pain-relieving drugs linked to an epidemic of overdose deaths.

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