Nov. 6 (UPI) -- New research suggests that most tonsillectomies performed on children provide no benefit to their health.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham's Institute of Applied Health Research report in a new analysis of medical records that, among children who had their tonsils removed in Britain between 2005 and 2016, just 11.7 percent of the procedures were necessary.
For the new study, published Tuesday in the British Journal of General Practice, researchers analyzed medical records for 1.6 million children under age 15 who had the procedure at one of 700 U.K. general practices.
Of the 18,271 children who had their tonsils removed, only 2,144 -- seven in eight -- had enough sore throats to justify surgery, according to findings
In addition, many children who might benefit from having their tonsils removed were found to have not undergone the procedure. Of 15,764 children who had records showing sufficient sore throats to undergo a tonsillectomy, just 2,144 -- 13.6 percent -- actually went on to have one.
"Our research showed that most children who had their tonsils removed weren't severely enough affected to justify treatment, while on the other hand, most children who were severely enough affected with frequent sore throats did not have their tonsils removed," Dr. Tom Marshall, professor or public health and primary care at the University of Birmingham, said in a press release.
While the Mayo Clinic reports that tonsillectomies were once common but now are generally only performed when bacterial tonsillitis occurs frequently, doesn't respond to treatment or causes other complications, researchers in the new study say the pattern they observed changed little over the 12-year period.
The British National Health Service and the American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery recommend that the surgery should be performed only if a child had more than seven documented sore throats in a year, more than five sore throats per year for two successive years or three sore throats per year for three successive years.
"Most children with frequent throat infection get better on their own; watchful waiting is best for most children" without the listed episodes," according to the American Academy guidelines.
If the episodes are above these levels, "a tonsillectomy can improve quality of life and reduce the frequency of severe throat infection," according to the association, which is in the process of updating its guidelines from 2011. Also, tonsils are recommended to be removed for modifying factors, including antibiotic allergy/intolerance, or large tonsils that obstruct breathing at night.
Among those who had undergone a tonsillectomy in the new study, the researchers found that 12.4 percent reported five to six sore throats in a year, 44.7 percent had two to four sore throats in a year and 9.9 percent had just one sore throat in a year.
"Research shows that children with frequent sore throats usually suffer fewer sore throats over the next year or two," Marshall said. "In those children with enough documented sore throats, the improvement is slightly quicker after tonsillectomy, which means surgery is justified."
Otherwise, don't have the surgery, Marshall says.
"Children may be more harmed than helped by a tonsillectomy," he said. "We found that even among severely affected children only a tiny minority of ever have their tonsils out. It makes you wonder if tonsillectomy ever really essential in any child."