It used to be considered a cure-all for children who repeatedly endured sore throats and infections.
But now some doctors are warning that having your tonsils out in childhood could harm health in later life.
A study found children who had their tonsils removed before the age of ten could be at triple the risk of throat, nose and sinus infections as adults.
And children who had their adenoids taken out could be at double the risk of lung disease, throat and sinus infections, and the eye infection conjunctivitis.
Those who had the procedures, known as tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies, were also at higher risk of asthma, pneumonia and allergies.
Because tonsils and adenoids are part of the immune system, researchers said removing them while children were still developing could make them more susceptible to infections and allergies.
They warned the short-term benefits of removal were outweighed by longer-term health risks.
However, other doctors said there was no evidence removing tonsils or adenoids caused health problems and it was more likely children who needed theirs removing were naturally more susceptible to illness.
Tonsils – lumps of tissue at either side of the back of the throat – are part of the immune system and can swell up in response to infections. Adenoids are similar tissues hidden between the back of the nose and roof of the mouth.
The study, led by the University of Melbourne, Australia, analysed the health records of nearly 1.2million children born in Denmark between 1979 and 1999.
Researchers looked at children who had their tonsils, adenoids or both removed before the age of ten and examined how many diseases they were treated for growing up, compared with how common these were in the general population.
They found the increased risk of illness meant there would only need to be five tonsillectomies or nine adenoidectomies for one additional patient to be diagnosed with a respiratory tract disease such as a throat or sinus infection.
Researchers also found that for every 38 adenoidectomies carried out, one extra patient developed asthma before the age of 30 than was normal in the population.
By contrast, the risk of tonsillitis – which the surgery was meant to treat – was barely reduced in the long term. In the paper, published in journal JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, lead author Dr Sean Byars said: ‘The associations that we uncovered appear to warrant renewed evaluation of potential alternatives to surgery.’
But Richard Rosenfeld, a professor of otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat surgery), said the association between surgery and disease later in life was ‘rather tenuous’. He also suggested the children studied may simply be more prone to illness.