Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Tonsillectomy—Adult

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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 done when other methods fail for:

  • Repeated tonsil infections—the procedure may lower how many infections you have, but will not eliminate them
  • Peritonsillar abscess—pocket of infection spreading outside the tonsil
  • Enlarged tonsils that block 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 such as:

  • Bleeding
  • Short term breathing problems
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Infection

Your chances of problems are higher for:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking
  • Chronic disease such as diabetes or obesity
  • Poor nutrition
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Bleeding problems
  • Recent or current steroid use
  • Taking blood thinners or aspirin
  • Dehydration

What to Expect ^

Prior to Procedure

You may have:

  • A physical exam of the tonsils, throat, neck, and possibly other parts of the body
  • Blood or urine tests

Leading up to your procedure:

  • Arrange for a ride home.
  • The night before, eat a light meal. Don't eat or drink anything after midnight.
  • Talk to your doctor about the medicines you take. You may be asked to stop taking some medicines up to 1 week in advance.

Anesthesia

General anesthesia is the most common. You will be asleep . If needed, the surgery can also be done with sedation and local anesthesia.

Description of the Procedure

Each tonsil will be grasped with a special tool. The tonsils will be cut away from the back of the throat and taken out. This may be done with a scalpel or hot knife. An electrical current, or clamps and ties will be used to stop bleeding .

How Long Will It Take?

About 20-60 minutes

Will It Hurt?

Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Medicines will ease pain afterwards.

Average Hospital Stay

You may be able to leave after the procedure. Some people may need to stay in the hospital for up to 2 days. If you have problems, you may need to stay longer.

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital

The healthcare staff will watch:

  • Your vital signs
  • For any reactions

After you are fully awake, alert, and stable, you may be able to leave.

At Home

To help you heal faster:

  • Avoid talking, coughing, and singing for 1 week.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Avoid spicy, acidic, and foods that are harder to eat.
  • Eat soft foods for about 3-4 days. Slowlyreturn to a normal diet.
  • Don't swallow hard items such as crackers or cookies. They may injure the back of your throat.

Call Your Doctor ^

Call your doctor if any of these occur:

  • Fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, pain, excess bleeding, or pus from the back of your throat
  • Spitting or vomiting blood
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain that you can't control with the medicines you were given
  • Coughing, breathing problems, or chest pain

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

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
https://www.entnet.org

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

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

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

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

REFERENCES:

Tonsillectomy. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114262/Tonsillectomy. Updated June 21, 2018. Accessed August 24 ,2018.

Tonsillectomy and adenoids postop. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: https://www.entnet.org//content/tonsillectomy-and-adenoids-postop. Accessed August 24, 2018.

Tonsils and tonsillectomies. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/tonsil.html. Updated May 2013. Accessed August 24, 2018.

4/16/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114262/Tonsillectomy: 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 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD  Last Updated: 8/24/2018