Tonsillectomy is surgery to remove the tonsils.
The tonsils are glands at the back of your throat. The tonsils are often removed along with the adenoid glands. That surgery is called adenoidectomy and most often done in children.
The surgery is done while the child is under general anesthesia. Your child will be asleep and pain-free.
- The surgeon will place a small tool into your child’s mouth to hold it open.
- The surgeon then cuts, burns, or shaves away the tonsils. The wounds heal naturally without stitches.
After surgery, your child will stay in the recovery room until he or she is awake and can breathe easily, cough, and swallow. Most children go home several hours after this surgery.
Why the Procedure Is Performed
The tonsils help protect against infections. But children with large tonsils may have many sore throats and ear infections.
You and your child's doctor may consider a tonsillectomy if:
- Your child has infections often (seven or more times in 1 year, or five or more times over 2 years).
- Your child misses a lot of school.
- Your child has trouble breathing.
- Your child has abscess or growth on their tonsils.
The risks for any anesthesia are:
- Reactions to medications
- Breathing problems
The risks for any surgery are:
Rarely, bleeding after surgery can go unnoticed and cause very bad problems. Swallowing a lot may be a sign of bleeding from the tonsils.
Another risk includes injury to the uvula (soft palate).
Before the Procedure
Your child's doctor may ask your child to have:
- Blood tests (complete blood count, electrolytes, clotting factors)
- A physical exam and medical history
Always tell your child's doctor or nurse:
- What drugs your child is taking
- Include any drugs, herbs, or vitamins you bought without a prescription
During the days before the surgery:
- Ten days before the surgery, your child may be asked to stop taking aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), warfarin (Coumadin), and other drugs like these.
- Ask your child’s doctor which drugs your child should still take on the day of the surgery.
On the day of the surgery:
- Your child will usually be asked not to drink or eat anything for several hours before the surgery.
- Give your child any drugs your doctor told you to give your child with a small sip of water.
- Your child's doctor or nurse will tell you when to arrive at the hospital.
After the Procedure
A tonsillectomy is usually done in a hospital or surgery center. Your child will go home the same day as the surgery. Children rarely need to stay overnight in the hospital for observation.
Complete recovery takes about 1 to 2 weeks. During the first week, your child should avoid people who are sick. It will be easier for your child to become infected during this time.
After surgery, the number of throat infections is usually lower, but your child will still get some.
Wetmore RF. Tonsils and adenoids. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 375.
Last reviewed 10/18/2013 by Ashutosh Kacker, MD, BS, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Associate Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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