Tonsils and Weight Loss

There's a long association, fueled by movies and television, of patients having their tonsils taken out and then feasting on ice cream afterward. While it make take a little time after a tonsillectomy before the patient is ready for yummy cold liquids, research suggests having your tonsils removed is not the best weight-loss strategy. However, if removing your tonsils improves your sleep, your eating patterns and your overall quality of life, you can always take steps to improve the odds of sustained weight loss as you cope with the other results of this sometimes-vital surgery.

Your tonsils can grow as you get older, making swallowing difficult. Credit: AlexRaths/iStock/Getty Images

Significance

Chronic tonsillitis and other throat infections are not only painful, but they also can have additional health consequences. As Susan Garetz, M.D., clinical assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Michigan Health System, notes, painful tonsils make it difficult to swallow and as a result, tonsillitis sufferers are susceptible to losing weight, because they simply aren't eating as much as they did before the throat problems. Difficulty swallowing can also result in dehydration, if you don't drink enough fluids because of the pain.

Effects

Having tonsils tends to make kids more fidgety and active, so removing them can cut down on the calorie-burning activity that can keep weight off, according to a study from the University of Buffalo. The study found removing the tonsils resulted in better sleep, but also was associated with less hyperactivity and generally less motor activity during the day. As a result, children who had tonsils removed were more likely to gain weight.

Function

The tonsils are roughly oval-shaped and are part the lymphatic system. The tonsils are located in the back of the throat. They help protect against infection by trapping germs that enter the body through the mouth and nose. While the tonsils' job is to protect you from infection, the tonsils can become infected, a condition known as tonsillitis. Chronic tonsillitis leaves the tonsils feeling sore and swollen. Tonsillitis can be treated with antibiotics, but if the condition persists or the tonsils interfere with breathing, particularly while sleeping, surgery may be the answer.

Considerations

Having your tonsils removed does not guarantee you'll never get strep throat or another throat infection again, but research shows having your tonsils taken out significantly reduces your risk of strep throat or other similar conditions. And with fewer sore throats and other throat problems, the concern about unexpected or unwanted weight loss associated with poor eating habits should be lessened.

Warning

If your child or someone in your family is losing weight and is noticeably eating less, it could be sore and swollen tonsils are to blame. People who live with chronic tonsillitis may not complain about the discomfort, because they have become used to it. But any signs of difficulty eating, at any age, should be investigated. Tonsillitis can often first be identified by a simple exam that would show swollen tonsils. A swab of the throat and test can confirm the diagnosis. In addition to a sore throat and difficulty swallowing, as well as accompanying weight loss, other symptoms of tonsillitis can include headache, ear ache, fever and chills.

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