Tonsillectomy is the surgical removal of the tonsils, two oval-shaped pads of tissue at the back of the throat — one tonsil on each side. A tonsillectomy was once a common procedure to treat infection and inflammation of the tonsils (tonsillitis). Today, a tonsillectomy is usually performed for sleep-disordered breathing but may still be a treatment when tonsillitis occurs frequently or doesn't respond to other treatments. A tonsillectomy may also be necessary to treat breathing and other problems related to enlarged tonsils and to treat rare diseases of the tonsils.
Why it's done
A tonsillectomy is used to treat:
- Recurring, chronic or severe tonsillitis
- Complications of enlarged tonsils
- Bleeding of the tonsils
- Other rare diseases of the tonsils
Complications of enlarged tonsils
Tonsils may become enlarged after frequent or persistent infections, or they may be naturally large. A tonsillectomy may be used to treat the following problems caused or complicated by enlarged tonsils:
- Difficulty breathing
- Disrupted breathing during sleep
- Difficulty swallowing
Other diseases of the tonsils
A tonsillectomy may also be used to treat other rare diseases or conditions of the tonsils, such as:
- Cancerous tissue in one or both tonsils
- Recurrent bleeding from blood vessels near the surface of the tonsils
What you can expect
Tonsillectomy is usually done as an outpatient procedure. That means you'll be able to go home the day of the surgery. An overnight stay is possible if complications arise or if the surgery is done on a young child, or if you have a complex medical condition.
During the surgery
Because a tonsillectomy is performed under general anesthesia, you or your child won't be aware of the procedure or experience pain during the surgery.
The surgeon may cut out the tonsils using a blade (scalpel) or a specialized surgical tool that uses heat or high-energy heat or sound waves to remove or destroy tissues and stop bleeding.
Nearly everyone experiences pain after a tonsillectomy. Pain is most often in the throat and frequently in the ears but may also be located in the jaw or the neck.
Steps that you can take to reduce pain, promote recovery and prevent complications include the following:
- Medications. Take pain medications as directed by your surgeon or the hospital staff.
- Fluids. It's important to get plenty of fluids after surgery to avoid dehydration. Water and ice pops are good choices.
- Food. Bland foods that are easy to swallow, such as applesauce or broth, are the best choices immediately after surgery. Foods such as ice cream and pudding can be added to the diet if they're tolerated. Foods that are easy to chew and swallow should be added to the diet as soon as possible. Avoid acidic, spicy, hard or crunchy foods as they may cause pain or bleeding.
- Rest. Bed rest is important for several days after surgery, and strenuous activities — such as running and bike riding — should be avoided for two weeks after surgery. You or your child should be able to return to work or school after resuming a normal diet, sleeping normally through the night and not needing pain medication. Talk to your doctor about any activities that should be avoided.