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The new alternative to tonsil removal that means your child might not need to have surgery.

When my son Tommy was two-and-a-half-years-old, I was told by doctors that he had enormous tonsils.

Despite having his fair share of colds, it wasn’t until just before his ninth birthday when our family slept together in a single motel room on a peninsula holiday that we realised he snuffled and snored during the night.

Tommy has always been a ‘good’ sleeper, but after that sleepless night (for the rest of the family) we took him to his GP to seek advice.

We were referred to Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital and prepared ourselves for a six to eight month wait to be seen by an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.

Seven months later, we received an appointment letter. Shortly afterwards, we were contacted by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), Australia’s biggest research centre for child health.

MCRI asked if we would like Tommy to be involved in a trial looking at reducing the need for surgery in children with snoring or sleep-time breathing issues. I’d had contact with the institute before for an allergy research program, and so was more than happy to support this important work.

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Video by MMC

After discovering Tommy’s breathing issues during sleep, I read a lot about treatments and was shocked at the number of children undergoing surgery to remove tonsils or adenoids. Each year more than 40,000 people have their tonsils out and it is the most common elective childhood operation in Australia.

If we could avoid (and help others to avoid) having surgery, then that would be a very positive outcome. And, it might also mean not having to wait forever to get Tommy treated in the public health system.

At our first visit we met Dr Alice Baker who asked Tommy lots of questions and was so lovely and patient with him. I also completed a couple of questionnaires about his sleep symptoms, his behaviour, emotional wellbeing, general personal background and our feelings around surgery.

We were given a bottle of nasal spray, a demonstration on how to use it and a diary to keep for six weeks that detailed the time given and any symptoms, side-effects or illnesses of any sort. Tommy felt very important being able to administer the spray himself.

swollen tonsils in kids
"Even though we didn’t know if we were given the placebo or the medicated spray, it did seem to start lessening the snuffling and gruffling after about three weeks." Image: Supplied.
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I won’t lie, the thought did cross my mind that any little challenge at school with reading, every ‘poor choice’ at the shops, every scowl when he’d been told to clean his teeth would be magically washed away by this wonderful nasal spray which was going to give him a much-needed good night’s sleep.

It didn’t take long to make the spray part of the nightly routine, right before the dreaded teeth-cleaning. While we didn’t know if we were given the placebo or the medicated spray as part of the study, it did seem to start lessening the snuffling and gruffling after about three weeks.

After six weeks of taking the nasal spray daily, we went back to Dr Alice who examined Tommy again. We went through the same questionnaire and were also asked if we felt any different about surgery.

I felt like we had seen an improvement in his sleep breathing problems, but it was tricky to tell for sure due to some other health issues that came up at the time the six weeks were up. I opted for Tommy to stop taking the spray to see if the breathing problems worsened again.

Our appointment with the ENT specialist finally comes up in a couple of weeks. I will, of course, take their advice and if they believe surgery will improve Tommy’s quality of life, then we will more than likely go ahead with it.

However if the outcome of the study means Tommy, or any other children don't have to face surgery for their tonsils or adenoids, it would have been worth it.

Does your child have problems with their tonsils or adenoids? What has your experience been like? Tell us about it in the comments section below. 

You can find out more about the Murdoch Children's Research Institute study and how to participate here. 

Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) is the largest child health research institute in Australia committed to making discoveries and developing treatments to improve child and adolescent health in Australia and around the world.

They are pioneering new treatments, trialling better vaccines and improving ways of diagnosing and helping sick babies, children and adolescents. It is one of the only research institutes in Australia to offer genetic testing to find answers for families of children with previously undiagnosed conditions. 

If your child is suffering from sleep issues, please consult a GP or health care professional.

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