Tonsillectomy—surgical removal of the two tonsils—is typically associated with severe throat pain for up to 10 days after the procedure. For many years, codeine was the drug of choice to treat this pain, but in February 2013 the Food and Drug Administration banned the use of codeine in children who’ve had a tonsillectomy after they discovered that it can cause sudden death in some cases. Since then, doctors have had to rely on much weaker painkillers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, which are less effective and carry their own risks of side effects.
However, a pediatric ear-nose-throat surgeon in San Diego, CA, Dr. James Ochi, has found that acupuncture may be a promising alternative. He assessed pain levels in 31 tonsillectomy patients (ranging in age from 2 to 17 years old) before and after they had a 15-minute acupuncture session. The average pain rating dropped from about 5.5 before acupuncture to 1.9 after the treatment. Parents reported that the effect lasted anywhere from a few hours to more than three days, with an average effect of 60 hours. Importantly, there were no complications associated with acupuncture.
This study is the first of its kind, but it is consistent with a 2009 Harvard study that found acupuncture to be effective at reducing pain and agitation in children after surgery to place ear tubes. While it is a small study and did not use a prospective, randomized design, Dr. Ochi’s findings provide compelling evidence that warrant larger studies.
From What Doctor’s Don’t Tell You via International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, 2013; 77: 2058