Importance: The 1996 Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy Inpatient Guidelines of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) Pediatric Otolaryngology Committee recommended that children younger than 3 years be admitted following tonsillectomy. Recommendations for hospital observation were not included as a key action statement in the 2011 AAO-HNS Clinical Practice Guidelines for Tonsillectomy in Children.
Objective: To examine the association between posttonsillectomy complication rate and the age and weight of the child at the time of surgery.
Design, setting, and participants: This was a multicenter case series study with medical record review of 2139 consecutive children ages 3 to 6 years who underwent tonsillectomy at 1 tertiary care academic center and 5 acute care centers in New Orleans, Louisiana, between 2005 and 2015. Children with moderate to severe developmental delay, bleeding disorders, and other major medical comorbidities were excluded.
Main outcomes and measures: Complications examined included respiratory distress, dehydration requiring intravenous fluids, and bleeding.
Results: Of the 2139 patients, 1817 met inclusion criteria. A total of 1011 (55.6%) were male. The mean (SD) age at the time of the procedure was 46 (14) months (range, 12-72 months). The mean weight at the time of the procedure was 17 (5) kg (range, 9-43 kg). A total of 95 patients (5.2%) had a postoperative complication. Of the 455 children younger than 3 years in the study, 32 (7.0%) had complications compared with 63 (4.6%) of the 1362 patients 3 years or older. The odds of having a complication in children younger than 3 years was 1.5 times greater than it was in children 3 years or older (odds ratio [OR], 1.56; 95% CI, 1.00-2.42). When examining total complications, children younger than 3 years were more likely to experience a complication within the first 24 hours after surgery than children 3 years or older (25% vs 9.5%; OR, 3.17; 95% CI, 1.00-10.11). The children admitted to the hospital had a greater risk of complication than those treated as an outpatient, independent of age (6.9% vs 93.0%; OR, 3.49; 95% CI, 2.0.18-6.05). No association between weight and complications was found on logistic regression (area under the curve = 0.5268; P = .66).
Conclusions and relevance: Healthy children younger than 3 years may be at an increased risk for complication following tonsillectomy. Those children may also be at increased risk for complications within the first 24 hours after surgery compared with children 3 years or older. Our data suggest that complications are independent of weight in these patients. In our cohort, those patients selected for overnight observation were associated with an increased number of adverse events following tonsillectomy, suggesting that clinician judgment is crucial in determining which patients are safe for outpatient tonsillectomy.