Background: Limited evidence exists as to the benefit of tonsillectomy in adult patients. We sought to determine the short-term efficacy of tonsillectomy for recurrent pharyngitis in adults.
Methods: We conducted a randomized, controlled, parallel-group trial at a tertiary care ear, throat and nose centre in Oulu, Finland, between October 2007 and December 2010. Adult patients with recurrent pharyngitis were randomly assigned to the control group (watchful waiting) or the tonsillectomy group. Our primary outcome was the difference in the proportion of patients with severe pharyngitis (severe symptoms and C-reactive protein level > 40 mg/L) within 5 months. Our secondary outcomes included differences between groups in proportions of patients who had episodes of pharyngitis with or without medical consultation, rates of pharyngitis and numbers of days with symptoms.
Results: Of 260 patients referred for tonsillectomy because of recurrent pharyngitis, we recruited 86 participants for our study. Of these, 40 patients were randomly allocated to the control group, and 46 were randomly allocated to the tonsillectomy group. One patient in the control group and no patients in the tonsillectomy group had a severe episode of pharyngitis (difference 3%, 95% confidence interval [CI] -2% to 7%). Seventeen patients in the control group (43%) and 2 patients in the tonsillectomy group (4%) consulted a physician for pharyngitis (difference 38%, 95% CI 22% to 55%). Overall, 32 patients in the control group (80%) and 18 patients in the tonsillectomy group (39%) had an episode of pharyngitis during the 5-month follow-up (difference 41%, 95% CI 22% to 60%). The rate of pharyngitis and number of symptomatic days were significantly lower in the tonsillectomy group than in the control group.
Interpretation: There was no significant difference in the number of episodes of severe pharyngitis between the control and treatment groups, and episodes were rare. However, tonsillectomy resulted in fewer symptoms of pharyngitis, consequently decreasing the number of medical visits and days absent from school or work. For this reason, surgery may benefit some patients.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov, no. NCT00547391.