A new study has confirmed that removing the tonsils and adenoids of children with obstructive sleep apnea can reduce sleepiness and improve the quality of life, but putting off the surgery might not hurt either.

The study is the first controlled test to compare the operation with so-called watchful waiting as a strategy for stopping childhood obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, where the structures in the back of the mouth can temporarily block breathing during sleep.

The findings, released May 21 at an American Thoracic Society International Conference in Philadelphia, and appearing online in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that after seven months, surgery improved many gauges of everyday living.

"Improvements in emotional regulation, attention, organizational skills, reduced sleepiness, improved quality of life including socialization and physical and emotional wellbeing were quite large, larger than we anticipated," coauthor Dr. Susan Redline of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston told Reuters Health.

Yet when the children were formally tested, youngsters in both groups performed equally well, an indication that the sleep disturbance wasn't causing any measurable cognitive problems.

"Where you objectively measure these cognitive tasks, children can do fairly well in that motivated and structured environment" whether or not they have surgery, she said. "It shows that over a 7-month period of watchful waiting, cognition does not decline."

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