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DefinitionThe tonsils are glands in the back of the throat. A tonsillectomy is the surgical removal of the tonsils.
Reasons for ProcedureTonsillectomy is most often done when other nonsurgical treatments have not worked for:
- Chronic or recurrent tonsil infections—Tonsillectomy may reduce the number, but will not completely eliminate these infections.
- Peritonsillar abscess—pocket of infection spreading outside the tonsil
- Enlarged tonsils causing obstruction of the throat
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Possible ComplicationsProblems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
- Temporary breathing problems
- Adverse reaction to anesthesia
- Vomiting and dehydration
- Poor nutrition
- Chronic illness
- Sickle cell anemia
- Bleeding disorders
- Recent or current steroid use
- Taking anticoagulants or aspirin products
What to Expect
Prior to ProcedureYour doctor may:
- Do a physical exam of the tonsils, throat, neck, and possibly other parts of the body
- Order blood tests and a urine test
- Review your medical history and current medications
- Talk to your doctor about your current medications. Certain medications may need to be stopped before the procedure.
- The night before, eat a light meal. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
AnesthesiaGeneral anesthesia is most commonly used. You will be asleep for the procedure. If necessary, the surgery can also be done with sedation and local anesthesia.
Description of the ProcedureThe anesthesia will be given through an IV or by a mask. The doctor will grasp each tonsil with a special tool. The tonsils will then be cut away from the surrounding tissues and removed. The tonsils may be cut out with a scalpel or hot knife. An electrical current or clamps and ties will be used to stop bleeding at the site.
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How Long Will It Take?About 20-60 minutes
Will It Hurt?Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
Average Hospital StayThis procedure is most often done in a hospital setting. It may be possible to leave the hospital on the day of the procedure. Some patients may need to stay in the hospital for up to two days. Talk to your doctor about what is right for you.
Post-procedure CareAt the Hospital
- You will be monitored for any negative reactions to anesthesia or other complications.
- After you are fully awake, alert, and stable, you may be able to leave. Arrange for a ride home from the hospital.
- Take medications that are prescribed as directed.
- Avoid talking, coughing, and singing for one week.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Avoid spicy, acidic, and hard-to-digest foods.
- Eat soft foods, such as gelatin and pudding, for 3-4 days after surgery. Gradually return to a normal diet.
- Avoid swallowing hard items such as crackers and hard cookies. They may injure the back of your throat.
Call Your DoctorAfter you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occur:
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the site where the tonsils were removed
- Nausea and/or vomiting that you cannot control with the medications you were given after surgery, or which last for more than two days after discharge from the hospital
- Pain that you cannot control with the medications you have been given, especially if it prevents you from drinking fluids
- Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
- Spitting or vomiting blood
- New, unexplained symptoms
American Academy of Otolaryngology
American College of Surgeons
Canadian Family Physician
Canadian Society of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
Fact sheet: tonsils and adenoids postop. The American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/tonsilsAdenoidsPostop.cfm. Updated January 2011. Accessed July 23, 2013.
Tonsils and tonsillectomies. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/ears/tonsil.html. Updated May 2013. Accessed July 23, 2013.
4/16/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Burton MJ, Glasziou PP. Tonsillectomy or adeno-tonsillectomy versus non-surgical treatment for chronic/recurrent acute tonsillitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(1):CD001802.
- Reviewer: Marcin Chwistek, MD; Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 07/2013
- Update Date: 05/11/2013