The tonsils may be removed due to repeated infections or enlargement that affects breathing.
A tonsillectomy is surgery to remove the tonsils.
The tonsils are two clumps of tissue in the back of your throat that help fight infections.
This procedure may be performed due to:
- Ongoing or repeated tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils)
- Repeated episodes of strep throat
- Enlarged tonsils that may affect breathing or sleep
- A growth or abscess on the tonsils
- Other rare conditions of the tonsils
Children are more likely to undergo a tonsillectomy, but adults may need the procedure, too.
Children tend to experience more problems because the immune system function of the tonsils is most active before puberty.
A tonsillectomy is often (but not always) performed along with an adenoidectomy (removal of the adenoid glands).
The Tonsillectomy Procedure
A tonsillectomy is typically performed under general anesthesia by an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgeon.
A small tool is placed in the mouth to hold it open. The surgeon will then cut, burn, or shave away the tonsils.
A tonsillectomy is performed through the mouth. There are no incisions on the face or outside of the head.
The operation usually takes about 30 minutes.
Before a Tonsillectomy
Before a tonsillectomy, you may need a blood test or physical exam.
Tell your doctor about any medications you take before having this procedure.
You may need to stop taking aspirin, Aleve (naproxen), Advil (ibuprofen), Coumadin (warfarin), or other drugs a couple of weeks before your surgery.
You will probably be told not to eat or drink anything for several hours before your tonsillectomy.
After a Tonsillectomy
After the surgery, you'll stay in a recovery room until you can breathe easily, swallow, and cough.
You'll probably be able to go home a few hours after the procedure. Complex cases may require an overnight hospital stay.
Recovery typically takes one to two weeks. Adults may take more time to recover than children.
Your healthcare provider will tell you what pain medications to take and how often to take them.
You'll be instructed to drink plenty of fluids after your tonsillectomy.
There are generally no food restrictions after a tonsillectomy, but your doctor may suggest a bland, soft diet for a few days. Foods such as applesauce and broth may be easiest to swallow.
Try to avoid being around people who are ill during your recovery.
A scab that's thick, white, and causes bad breath may form where the tonsils were removed. This is normal, and the scab will usually fall off 5 to 10 days after the procedure.
Call your doctor right away if you experience any of the following symptoms after your tonsillectomy:
- Bleeding from the site (bright red blood)
- Fever (102 degrees F or higher)
- Breathing problems
Risks of Tonsillectomy
Potential risks of a tonsillectomy include:
- Infection, bleeding, or blood clots
- Breathing problems
- Injury to the uvula (soft palate)
- An allergic reaction to medications
- Anesthesia-related complications
Tonsillectomy, Sleep, and ADHD
Some research has suggested that a tonsillectomy may improve symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that about half of children who had ADHD before a tonsillectomy no longer had the disorder a year later.
Nearly all of the children in the study were thought to have had sleep apnea (a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing).
While some researchers believe sleep-disordered breathing and behavioral problems may be linked, more studies are needed to confirm the relationship and determine whether tonsillectomy is an effective solution.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Tonsillectomy; Mayo Clinic.
- Tonsillectomy; MedlinePlus.
- Tonsillectomy and Adenoids PostOp; American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery.
- "Kids behave and sleep better after tonsillectomy, University of Michigan study finds" (2006). University of Michigan Health System.