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Tonsillectomy

Surgery Overview

A tonsillectomy is surgery to remove the tonsils. The adenoids may or may not be removed at the same time. This topic is about surgery to remove the tonsils, not the adenoids.

For children, a general anesthetic is always used. It makes the child sleep during the surgery. Adults may need only a local anesthetic to numb the throat.

What To Expect

Tonsillectomy is often done as an outpatient surgery. But some people may need to stay overnight in the hospital.

A person can expect to have a very sore throat after surgery. It may last for several days. This may affect the sound and volume of the voice. It can make it harder to eat and drink. The person may also have bad breath for a few days after surgery. There is a very small risk of serious bleeding after surgery.

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Why It Is Done

A tonsillectomy may be done when:

  • A person has tonsillitis that does not get better or that comes back often.
  • A person has strep throat that keeps coming back, even with antibiotic treatment.
  • Abscesses of the tonsils do not get better after treatment. Or the person has an abscess along with other signs that point to a tonsillectomy.
  • A foul odor or taste in the mouth caused by tonsillitis that does not get better with antibiotics.
  • A biopsy is needed to check for a suspected tumor of the tonsil.
  • The tonsils are so large that they affect nighttime breathing. This is called sleep apnea.

Large tonsils are not a reason to have a tonsillectomy unless they are causing problems.

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How Well It Works

Children who have their tonsils removed for repeated throat infections may have fewer infections for a few years after surgery. But over time, many children who do not have surgery also have fewer throat infections.

Adults who have their tonsils removed after repeated throat infections don't get as many new infections as adults who don't have the surgery.

Risks

Some bleeding is a normal risk after a tonsillectomy. This is common, especially when the healed scab over the cut area falls off.

Less common or rare risks include:

  • Breathing problems from surgery.
  • More serious bleeding.
  • Problems from anesthesia.
  • Infection.

Credits

Current as of: December 2, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Charles M. Myer III MD - Otolaryngology

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