Analyzing factors associated with major complications after adenotonsillectomy in 4776 patients: comparing three tonsillectomy techniques

Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2010 Jun;142(6):886-92. doi: 10.1016/j.otohns.2010.02.019.


Objective: To compare the rates of major complications (postoperative hemorrhage requiring return to the operating room or cauterization in the emergency department and dehydration requiring intravenous fluids or readmission) in a large cohort of children undergoing adenotonsillectomy by three different techniques.

Study design: Case series with chart review, case-controlled study.

Setting: Regional children's hospital.

Subjects and methods: Subjects comprised patients aged 1 to 18 years undergoing adenoidectomy, tonsillectomy, or adenotonsillectomy by microdebrider, coblator, or Bovie over a 36-month period. Major complications identified were compared to two case-matched controls to try to identify patients at risk for major postoperative complications.

Results: The overall complication rate was 80 of 4776 (1.7 +/- 0.4% [percent +/- 95% confidence interval]). Of the 3362 patients who received either an adenotonsillectomy or tonsillectomy alone, 80 had a complication (2.3 +/- 0.5%). Major complication rates differed among tonsil removal techniques: 34 of 1235 (2.8 +/- 0.9%) coblation; 40 of 1289 (3.1 +/- 0.9%) electrocautery; six of 824 (0.7 +/- 0.7%) microdebrider (P < 0.001). Postoperative hemorrhage occurred in older children (8.5 vs 5.5 years; P < 0.001), while age did not influence postsurgical dehydration (5.33 vs 5.49 years). The case-control portion of the study did not find any reliable way to identify patients at risk for complications during adenotonsillectomy. Identity of the surgeon was not a confounding independent variable, nor was participation by resident surgeons.

Conclusion: In this "real life" teaching hospital surgical setting in which three different techniques of tonsillectomy are routinely performed by a variety of resident and attending surgeons, microdebrider intracapsular tonsillectomy is associated with lower rates of post-tonsillectomy hemorrhage and dehydration when compared to coblation and electrocautery complete tonsillectomy technique.

MeSH terms

  • Adenoidectomy
  • Adolescent
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Debridement
  • Dehydration / epidemiology
  • Electrocoagulation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Postoperative Hemorrhage / epidemiology*
  • Postoperative Hemorrhage / prevention & control
  • Tonsillectomy / adverse effects*
  • Tonsillectomy / methods*