NEW YORK – Bedwetters don't get drier nights by having their tonsils removed, according to a small study.
Unlikely as it sounds, many doctors say the surgery, when used to help kids who have breathing trouble at night, will also stop them from wetting the bed.
But in the new study, researchers found that although many kids who had their tonsils removed -- so-called tonsillectomy — had stopped wetting the bed six months later, so had kids who underwent unrelated surgeries, such as hernia repair.
Given these results, "we don't recommend tonsillectomy as a treatment for bedwetting," study author Dr. Carmin Kalorin, a urologist at Capital Urological Associates in North Carolina, told Reuters Health.
Breathing trouble at night can lead to other symptoms as well -- such as difficulty concentrating in school -- but the study didn't look at those.
About 15 percent of five-year-olds wet the bed at night. There are a number of possible reasons why, Kalorin explained, such as smaller bladders, more urine production at night, or trouble waking up when it's time to go. For some kids, "the signal from their bladder to their brain is not enough to arouse them."
Bedwetting may also stem from trouble breathing at night, which can trigger the release of hormones that increase urine production, some studies suggest.
In children, the most common reason the upper airways become blocked is enlarged tonsils. As a result, researchers have investigated whether removing kids' tonsils, a procedure that costs several thousand dollars, helps them stop wetting the bed at night.
Compared with earlier studies that suggested the surgery works, Kalorin said the new work, published in the Journal of Urology, was more rigorous and thorough.
The researchers asked 326 children and their parents to complete a questionnaire about bedwetting and incontinence, and other factors. Most of the kids were already scheduled to undergo tonsillectomy for breathing problems, and the rest underwent unrelated surgery
By including children with unrelated surgery, the researchers tried to make sure that just having surgery, regardless of type, would not influence the bedwetting.
About a third of the children started out as bedwetters. After six months, about half of those kids could get through the night dry, no matter what type of surgery they'd had.
Dr. Richard Rosenfeld of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery said the findings were encouraging, as they suggest bedwetting may disappear by itself.
"If your reason for doing the surgery is bedwetting, maybe give them six months, and see if they've improved," he suggested.
Still, Rosenfeld added, the study doesn't rule out that tonsillectomy may improve bedwetting in some children with severe sleep disorders.
Most of the children in the study had been bedwetters for a long time, he noted, and tonsillectomy mostly helps those who've recently begun wetting the bed after developing difficulty sleeping.
Tonsillectomy comes with a one-week recovery time, during which the child has a sore throat and can only eat soft foods, study author Dr. John Gavin, a pediatric ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist at University Ear Nose and Throat of Northeastern New York, told Reuters Health.
Instead, parents might want to try medications that let the bladder fill more or decrease the amount of urine produced at night, but there are side effects, said Kalorin.
Bedwetting alarms let kids (and their families) know when they've had an accident and help kids become more aware and wake up more easily. Ultimately, Kalorin said, "most of them just outgrow it."