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Definition

The tonsils are glands in the back of the throat. A tonsillectomy is the surgical removal of the tonsils.

Reasons for Procedure

Tonsillectomy 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

The Tonsils

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Possible Complications

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:

  • Bleeding
  • Temporary breathing problems
  • Vomiting and dehydration
  • Infection

Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before your tonsillectomy.

What to Expect
Prior to Procedure

Your 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

Leading up to your procedure:

  • Arrange for a ride home from the hospital.
  • 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.
Anesthesia

General 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 Procedure

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.

Tonsil Removal

Grasping a Tonsil

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

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 Stay

This procedure is most often done in a hospital setting. It may be possible to leave the hospital on the day of the procedure. Some people may need to stay in the hospital for up to 2 days. You may need to stay longer if there are complications.

Post-procedure Care
At 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.
At Home

To help ensure a smooth recovery:

  • 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 Doctor

It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the site where the tonsils were removed
  • Persistent nausea and/or vomiting
  • 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 or worsening symptoms

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Otolaryngology
http://www.entnet.org

American College of Surgeons
http://www.facs.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Society of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
http://www.entcanada.org

The College of Family Physicians of Canada
http://www.cfpc.ca

References:

Tonsillectomy and adenoids postop. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/content/tonsillectomy-and-adenoids-postop. 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.



Last reviewed June 2015 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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