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Definition

A tonsillectomy is surgery to remove the tonsils. The tonsils are glands in the back of the throat.

Reasons for Procedure

This surgery is done when other methods have not helped. It may be done to treat:

  • Repeat infections of the throat and tonsils
  • Peritonsillar abscess—pocket of infection spreading outside the tonsil
  • Enlarged tonsils that block the throat

The Tonsils
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Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:

  • Excess bleeding
  • Problems from anesthesia, such as wheezing or sore throat
  • Infection

Things that may raise the risk of problems are:

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

The surgical team may meet with you to talk about:

  • Anesthesia options
  • Any allergies you may have
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before surgery
  • Fasting before surgery, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
  • Whether you need a ride to and from surgery

Anesthesia

The doctor may give:

  • A sedative—you will feel relaxed
  • Local anesthesia—the area will be numbed
  • General anesthesia—you will be asleep

Description of the Procedure

The doctor will open the mouth. A special tool will be used to hold the tonsils. The tonsils will be removed with a scalpel or electric current. The incision will be closed with stitches.

How Long Will It Take?

About 20 to 60 minutes

Will It Hurt?

Throat pain is common in the first 1 to 2 weeks. Medicine and home care help

Average Hospital Stay

You may be able to leave after the procedure. If you have problems, you may need to stay longer.

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital

Right after the procedure, the staff may give you pain medicine.

At Home

It will take about 2 weeks to recover from surgery. Certain foods and activities may need to be avoided during this time. You may also need to delay your return to work.

Call Your Doctor

Call the doctor if you are not getting better or you have:

  • Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, excess bleeding, or discharge from the back of your throat
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain that you cannot control with medicine

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help 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:

How to prepare for tonsil and adenoid surgery. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: https://www.enthealth.org/be_ent_smart/how-to-prepare-for-tonsil-and-adenoid-surgery. Accessed December 14, 2020.

Mitchell RB, Archer SM, et al. Clinical Practice Guideline: Tonsillectomy in Children (Update). Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2019 Feb;160(1_suppl):S1-S42.

Tonsillectomy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/procedure/tonsillectomy. Accessed December 14, 2020.

Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD  Last Updated: 12/14/2020