Growing up, many of us had our tonsils out or ear tubes put in. I'm sure we all remember the yucky "bubble gum" antibiotics we used to have to choke down when we were sick. Just a childhood rite of passage, right?
For our own children, it seems as if some operations and treatments are just as routine. However, recent research has shown that many of these childhood procedures are not as necessary as once thought, and yet, some doctors continue to prescribe them. And medical professionals aren't the only ones to blame, as many parents heavily pressure their health care providers to prescribe antibiotics or demand their child has a procedure they may not need.
Here are some common childhood treatments and procedures to think twice about.
According to a study conducted by the University of Chicago, “At least 1 in 10
children received unnecessary medical services in 2014—causing them potential
harm and costing families more than $9 million.” Though some of those services
were unneeded tests, most of that money was spent on medication children didn't
need, some of which were detrimental to their health.
The most over-prescribed medications were
antibiotics for upper respiratory infections, cough and cold medicine, and acid
blockers for babies exhibiting some symptoms of reflux. Overuse of antibiotics
can cause your child to develop antibiotic resistance, which can lead to
hard-to-treat, even life-threatening infections.
It’s easy to blame doctors for this troubling
trend—perhaps they just want to move on to the next patient in their busy
schedule, or don’t trust the parents’ assessment of their child’s symptoms—but caregivers can contribute to the problem by demanding treatments and tests
that doctors would not normally recommend so vehemently that physicians feel forced
to give in despite their better judgment.
When a child has repeated ear infections that
don’t respond well to antibiotics, or fluid retains behind the eardrum for an
extended period of time, doctors often perform a procedure called a
tympanostomy. A small incision is made in the eardrum, and a tube put in place
to drain excess fluid that otherwise would remain, causing the child pain,
hearing loss, behavioral problems and even developmental delays in language.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery,
“By the age of 3, one out of 15 children will have tubes in their ears.”
The Academy has recently revised its
guidelines regarding this surgery, stating that children who have frequent ear
infections but no long-term fluid buildup are not candidates for the
procedure, and fluid must remain behind the ear for three months or more.
Ear tubes have been used in the past to
help kids with language delays, thought to be brought about by fluid causing them
to hear everything “underwater,” making it very difficult to discern and mimic
sounds. However, according to a recent study from the University of Pittsburgh, “about 400
children were followed for 10 years. Researchers found that those who got ear
tubes did no better on speech and language tests than those who didn't get ear
Doctors now suggest other courses of action to try first with language
delays before jumping onto the ear-tube wagon.
As parents, when we think something is wrong with our child, we want answers and solutions.
Tonsillectomies are the third most common surgery performed on children in the U.S. But according to a study done by the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands,
111 kids with symptoms that would have traditionally encouraged doctors to remove the adenoids were
divided into two groups—one group had the operation immediately, while the
others were monitored carefully and treated with antibiotics and nasal sprays.
In the end, “the study team found no difference in future respiratory
infections or ear problems in kids who did or didn't have immediate
adenoidectomy. Of the 57 kids initially allocated to watchful waiting, 23 went
on to have their adenoids removed.”
And I'm sure you can guess that the cost of the surgery was significantly
more than the other treatments.
The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head
and Neck Surgery also revised their guidelines in 2011 regarding tonsilectomies. The new guidelines
are very specific about how many throat infections—as diagnosed by a doctor—a child must have per year
or over time in order for them to be eligible for the surgery, and recommends tonsillectomies only for those most severely affected. They also advise that "doctors should not routinely prescribe antibiotics to improve recovery following tonsillectomy surgery, because
medical studies show no consistent
benefits over placebo and there are
associated risks and side effects."
As parents, when we think something is wrong with our child, we want answers and solutions. It’s very difficult for us to see our children suffering, and it’s so easy to turn to medical procedures and treatments we think will make them feel better. However, it’s best to stick to what the doctors suggest, and if you think your child’s doctor is suggesting something unnecessary, don’t be afraid to speak up and get a second opinion. Families need to strike a balance where they feel their child's doctor is hearing and responding to their concerns while still taking their doctor's professional opinions seriously.
At the end of the day, we all want the same thing: a happy and healthy child.