My 7-year-old daughter has been diagnosed with strep throat four times in six months. Should we think about having her tonsils removed?

Answer From Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.

Health care providers may sometimes suggest surgery to remove the two oval-shaped pads at the back of the throat, called the tonsils, if a child has a recurring strep throat, a bacterial infection. Providers may suggest this surgery, called tonsillectomy, if a child has strep throat seven or more times in one year, five or more times a year in two years, or three or more times a year in three years.

Symptoms of strep throat include:

  • Temperature of at least 101 F (38.3 C) in the mouth
  • Enlarged and tender lymph nodes in the neck
  • White spots on the tonsils

Strep throat is caused by bacteria. Many sore throats are caused by viruses that can’t be treated with antibiotics or surgery. This is why it’s important for children to take a test to see if they have a strep throat infection or an infection caused by a virus.

Children can still get strep throat after having their tonsils removed. But tonsillectomy may lower how often and how severe some children have strep throat.

But many children have fewer strep throat infections as they get older. Think about risks and complications of the surgery before deciding to remove a child’s tonsils. Risks can be linked to medicine given to put a person in a sleep-like state during surgery. This medicine is called anesthetic. Complications can include bleeding, pain and vomiting.

If your child often has strep throat, talk to your health care provider. Also think about getting advice from a surgeon who is trained in ear, nose and throat surgery in children.