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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
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Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
- Temporary breathing problems
- Vomiting and dehydration
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
- Poor nutrition
- Chronic disorders
- Sickle cell anemia
- Bleeding disorders
- Recent or current steroid use
- Taking anticoagulants or aspirin products
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.
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
Each tonsil will be grasped 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.
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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.
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.
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.
American Academy of Otolaryngology
American College of Surgeons
Canadian Society of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
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 2015. Accessed June 20, 2016.
Tonsils and tonsillectomies. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/ears/tonsil.html. Updated May 2013. Accessed June 20, 2016.
4/16/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com: Burton MJ, Glasziou PP. Tonsillectomy or adeno-tonsillectomy versus non-surgical treatment for chronic/recurrent acute tonsillitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(1):CD001802.
- Reviewer: Marcin Chwistek, MD
- Review Date: 06/2016
- Update Date: 05/11/2013