Objective: To assess whether increased awareness and diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS) and national guidance on tonsillectomy for recurrent tonsillitis have influenced the socio-demographic profile of children who underwent tonsillectomy over the last decade.
Method: Retrospective time-trends study of Hospital Episodes Statistics data. We examined the age, sex and deprivation level, alongside OSAS diagnoses, among children aged <16 years who underwent (adeno)tonsillectomy in England between 2001/2 and 2011/12.
Results: Among children aged <16 years, there were 29,697 and 27,732 (adeno)tonsillectomies performed in 2001/2 and 2011/12, respectively. The median age at (adeno)tonsillectomy decreased from 7 (IQR: 5-11) to 5 (IQR: 4-9) years over the decade. (Adeno)tonsillectomy rates among children aged 4-15 years decreased by 14% from 350 (95%CI: 346-354) in 2001/2 to 300 (95%CI: 296-303) per 100,000 children in 2011/12. However, (adeno)tonsillectomy rates among children aged <4 years increased by 58% from 135 (95%CI: 131-140) to 213 (95%CI 208-219) per 100,000 children in 2001/2 and 2011/2, respectively. OSAS diagnoses among children aged <4 years who underwent surgery increased from 18% to 39% between these study years and the proportion of children aged <4 years with OSAS from the most deprived areas increased from 5% to 12%, respectively.
Conclusions: (Adeno)tonsillectomy rates declined among children aged 4-15 years, which reflects national guidelines recommending the restriction of the operation to children with more severe recurrent throat infections. However, (adeno)tonsillectomy rates among pre-school children substantially increased over the past decade and one in five children undergoing the operation was aged <4 years in 2011/12.The increase in surgery rates in younger children is likely to have been driven by increased awareness and detection of OSAS, particularly among children from the most deprived areas.