CONTEXT:

The effectiveness of tonsillectomy or adenotonsillectomy (hereafter, “tonsillectomy”) for obstructive sleep-disordered breathing (OSDB) compared with watchful waiting with supportive care is poorly understood.

OBJECTIVE:

To compare sleep, cognitive or behavioral, and health outcomes of tonsillectomy versus watchful waiting with supportive care in children with OSDB.

DATA SOURCES:

Medline, Embase, and the Cochrane Library.

STUDY SELECTION:

Two investigators independently screened studies against predetermined criteria.

DATA EXTRACTION:

Two investigators independently extracted key data. Investigators independently assessed study risk of bias and the strength of the evidence of the body of literature. Investigators synthesized data qualitatively and meta-analyzed apnea–hypopnea index (AHI) scores.

RESULTS:

We included 11 studies. Relative to watchful waiting, most studies reported better sleep-related outcomes in children who had a tonsillectomy. In 5 studies including children with polysomnography-confirmed OSDB, AHI scores improved more in children receiving tonsillectomy versus surgery. A meta-analysis of 3 studies showed a 4.8-point improvement in the AHI in children who underwent tonsillectomy compared with no surgery. Sleep-related quality of life and negative behaviors (eg, anxiety and emotional lability) also improved more among children who had a tonsillectomy. Changes in executive function were not significantly different. The length of follow-up in studies was generally <12 months.

LIMITATIONS:

Few studies fully categorized populations in terms of severity of OSDB; outcome measures were heterogeneous; and the durability of outcomes beyond 12 months is not known.

CONCLUSIONS:

Tonsillectomy can produce short-term improvement in sleep outcomes compared with no surgery in children with OSDB. Understanding of longer-term outcomes or effects in subpopulations is lacking.

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