Tonsillectomy is surgery to remove the tonsils.
The tonsils are glands at the back of your throat. The tonsils are often removed along with the adenoid glands. That surgery is called adenoidectomy and most often done in children.
The surgery is done while the child is under general anesthesia. Your child will be asleep and pain-free.
- The surgeon will place a small tool into your child's mouth to hold it open.
- The surgeon then cuts, burns, or shaves away the tonsils. The wounds heal naturally without stitches.
After surgery, your child will stay in the recovery room until they are awake and can breathe easily, cough, and swallow. Most children go home several hours after this surgery.
Why the Procedure Is Performed
The tonsils help protect against infections. But children with large tonsils may have many sore throats and ear infections.
You and your child's health care provider may consider a tonsillectomy if:
- Your child has infections often (seven or more times in 1 year, or five or more times over 2 years).
- Your child misses a lot of school.
- Your child has trouble breathing.
- Your child has abscess or growth on their tonsils.
Risks for anesthesia and surgery in general include:
Rarely, bleeding after surgery can go unnoticed and cause very bad problems. Swallowing a lot may be a sign of bleeding from the tonsils.
Another risk includes injury to the uvula (soft palate).
Before the Procedure
Your child's provider may ask your child to have:
- Blood tests (complete blood count, electrolytes, and clotting factors)
- A physical exam and medical history
Always tell your child's provider:
- What medicines your child is taking
- Include any drugs, herbs, or vitamins you bought without a prescription
During the days before the surgery:
- Ten days before the surgery, your child may be asked to stop taking aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), warfarin (Coumadin), and other medicines like these.
- Ask your child's provider which medicines your child should still take on the day of the surgery.
On the day of the surgery:
- Your child will most often be asked not to drink or eat anything for several hours before the surgery.
- Give your child any medicines your provider told you to give your child with a small sip of water.
- Your child's provider will tell you when to arrive at the hospital.
After the Procedure
A tonsillectomy is most often done in a hospital or surgery center. Your child will go home the same day as the surgery. Children rarely need to stay overnight in the hospital for observation.
Complete recovery takes about 1 to 2 weeks. During the first week, your child should avoid people who are sick. It will be easier for your child to become infected during this time.
After surgery, the number of throat infections is most often lower, but your child may still get some.
Wetmore RF. Tonsils and adenoids. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 375.
Reviewed By: Ashutosh Kacker, MD, BS, Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.