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Paul asked...

My son is suffering from sleep apnoea.

Tags: Children

I took my son to an ENT specialist because he has excess saliva and breathing difficulties, especially while he is sleeping. The specialist arranged an X-ray and informed us that he has very large adenoids and tonsils and his airway is narrow. He suspects he is suffering from sleep apnoea. We have booked surgery in September to have his tonsils and adenoids removed. The surgery needed to be booked at a hospital further away, as he is under 3 years old (he will be 2 years 9 months in September). The consultant told me there was no additional risk associated with his young age. I checked on the internet as to why the surgery would need to be at a different hospital and found a worrying article about learning difficulties been associated with anaesthesiology in children under 3. Do any of your specialists have a view on whether he should have this surgery at this time?

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The answer

I suspect you are referring to a study in 2012, published in the medical journal Paediatrics, which found that children who had been given a general anaesthetic before the age of 3 were more likely to have language and understanding problems when they were assessed at the age of 10. The study did not prove conclusively that the anaesthetic was the cause, although the researchers tried to exclude other ‘confounding factors’ which might explain the differences between the groups of children who had and had not had an anaesthetic. The study suggested that a single anaesthetic posed a smaller risk than multiple anaesthetics, and that other areas such as behaviour and attention span were not affected. The study did not differentiate between children who had anaesthetics at, say, under 1 year and between 2 and 3 years. It also did not look at children over 3, so we cannot say if the same risks might apply to them.

It is important to weigh up the benefits and the risks of any surgery at any age. If your child’s condition is having a major impact on his quality of life, addressing this might be more important than a small risk from an anaesthetic.
Answered by Dr Sarah Jarvis.


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