Can removing tonsils and adenoids cure sleep apnea?

This question was asked in Staten Island, New York on 06/14/2012.
I am a 46 year old female weighing 142lbs and am 5'4". Can removing tonsils and adenoids cure sleep apnea? Also, in treating apnea, should I see an ENT or a pulmonologist? Thank you.

Doctors Answers (4)

Ramie A. Tritt, M.D., FRCSC
Answered on: 6/27/2012

Removal of one's tonsils and adenoids can definitely cure sleep apnea if the size of the tonsils and adenoid tissue are such that they obstruct the airflow through the nasal passageways and the upper throat into the windpipe (trachea) and lungs. Regarding the question of whether to see an ENT (Otolaryngologist) or Pulmonologist in treating apnea, I must confess my being an ENT who specializes in treating snoring and sleep disorders, prejudices me to recommend seeing an ENT specialist. Yet, I have what I consider logical and persuasive reasons for this recommendation. Specifically, an ENT specialist is able to obtain a thorough sleep history and also perform an in depth upper airway evaluation which includes a fiber optic examination. Next, the ENT specialist will order the sleep study and decide if medical or surgical treatment is the preferred option for resolution of the sleep apnea condition. The ENT specialist is able to handle both treatment options. Nothing I have written should be taken to infer or imply a lack of confidence in an Pulmonologist's ability to diagnosis or treatment a patient with sleep apnea symptoms.

J. Douglas Hudson, MD, DABSM
Answered on: 6/18/2012

Removing the tonsils and adenoids can often "cure" sleep apnea in children but rarely in adults. If adults have extremely large tonsils then surgery may be helpful. If you know that you have very large tonsils then I would recommend an ENT consultation. If, however, sleep apnea is suspected a sleep study is in order as a non- surgical approach may be more appropriate. A board certified sleep specialist would be best consulted if the ENT physician is not also a "sleep doctor".

Syed Nabi, M.D.
Answered on: 6/15/2012

Removing tonsils and adenoids have shown to be helpful only in children, not in adults. In treating sleep apnea, you should see a sleep doctor which can be both a pulmonologist, ENT, or a neurologiest, or psychiatrist sometimes.

Richard J. Schumann Jr., MD
Answered on: 6/15/2012

It is unlikely that if you have moderate or severe sleep apnea that removal of the tonsils alone will cure the apnea. If you have a narrow airway and large or inflamed tonsils with recurrent pharyngitis or infections then you could consider removing them but you would still have to be tested after the surgery to know if your sleep disordered breathing was still present. Sleep apnea is a disorder of the upper airway musculature with collapse of the airway adjacent to the base if the tongue at one or more levels and loss of ventilatory control. If you are considering having your tonsils removed then an ENT physician is the person to see about this type of surgery. Any sleep specialist can help you with treatment for the apnea thereafter as needed.