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What is a Tonsillectomy?

Tonsils are a mass of lymphoid tissue located behind the nasal passages. They help prevent infections by trapping germs that enter through the throat. However, tonsils can become enlarged or infected, which can lead to tonsillitis, causing severe sinus or throat infection and fever. When these symptoms repeatedly occur, a doctor may recommend having a tonsillectomy done.

A tonsillectomy is an outpatient surgical procedure to remove swollen or infected tonsils. Removing tonsils also can help prevent snoring, shortness of breath or choking while sleeping.

Tonsillectomies are most commonly performed on children but may also be done on adults experiencing chronic sore throats and infections not responding to antibiotics, or to provide relief from snoring and sleep apnea.

How to Prepare for a Tonsillectomy

Your doctor will want to review any medications you are taking and your medical history. The doctor will advise you not to take any aspirin before the surgery, as well as avoid any food or drink the night before. The doctor also will go over what will happen during and throughout the surgery. Take advantage of this time to ask questions and bring up any concerns.

If the patient is a child, it is important to make the child feel comfortable when arriving for the procedure. Allow the child to bring a stuffed animal, toy or blanket. Be sure to let the child know what to expect before, during and after the surgery.

What Happens During a Tonsillectomy?

The surgery takes about 30 minutes to an hour. A nurse will begin by administering an intravenous infusion line (IV). Patients are eventually placed under general anesthetic.  Once the anesthetic takes effect and the patient is asleep, the surgeon will insert a tube into the throat to help the patient breathe. When everything is in place, the doctor will begin to remove the swollen and infected tonsils by cauterizing (burning) the tonsils and removing them through the mouth.

The removed tonsils may be sent to a lab for testing or just be thrown away.

It is common among child patients to have adenoids removed at the same time as tonsils. Adenoids are also a type of tissue located where the nose and mouth meet. They work with the tonsils to help protect the body from infections.

How Long is Tonsillectomy Recovery?

Children tend to recover faster from a tonsillectomy than adults. Whether it’s you or your child, pain medication will be prescribed to help subside any pain or discomfort. Patients may experience trouble swallowing, nausea, light bleeding and/or a low fever. Make sure to follow the doctor’s post-operative care directions. It is generally recommended to sleep with the head elevated and applying an ice pack to the neck to diminish any swelling.

Children should plan to rest for a week before returning back to school. Make sure to check with a doctor before returning to any physical activities. Most patients feel back to normal after a couple of weeks. If any after-effects persist, please make an appointment to see your doctor.