Having Your Tonsils Removed (Tonsillectomy)

If you are having your tonsils removed, there’s no need to worry. A tonsillectomy (the surgery to remove tonsils) is a common procedure that comes with few risks and side effects. There are also several benefits to having the surgery if you’re a good candidate for it. Learn more about what to expect during and after your procedure.

Why You Need It

Tonsillitis is a condition that occurs when the tonsils in the back of the throat become sore and infected. Some people experience recurring, chronic or severe tonsillitis, which may lead their doctor to recommend getting their tonsils removed. This is more common in children since their immune system hasn’t had as much exposure to the bacteria and viruses that can cause tonsillitis and therefore hasn’t yet developed immunities against them.

Undergoing a tonsillectomy can help prevent frequent episodes of tonsillitis. This can also help prevent other tonsil-related conditions, such as the tonsils becoming enlarged as a result of persistent infections or other diseases of the tonsils. If these conditions have already developed, then a tonsillectomy is often the most effective treatment option.

What To Expect

Currently, there are several different tonsillectomy procedures that may be used to remove the tonsils. The severity of the individual case often determines the method chosen by the surgeon. However, the traditional cold knife dissection is still the most popular method for removing the tonsils. This procedure involves the use of a scalpel to completely remove the tonsils. Minimal bleeding typically results with this method. However, a method using a device that destroys tissues with high-energy heat or sound waves is sometimes considered superior due to its ability to stop bleeding.

Regardless of what procedure is used, patients are given general anesthesia beforehand so that they will sleep through the procedure, which typically takes only 20 minutes. Upon waking up, the patient will likely feel groggy and may experience an earache as well. Most patients are allowed to go home the day of the surgery.

Recovery

Though the procedure itself is quick, a tonsillectomy requires at least a few days of bed rest to recover. Patients will feel pain in their throat, for which pain medications are usually prescribed. Some also experience pain in the jaw, neck and ears.

Be sure to drink plenty of water after having your tonsils removed. As for food, stick to easy-to-swallow, bland foods such as broth or applesauce immediately following the surgery. As soon as you can tolerate them, add in other foods that are easy to chew and swallow. Don’t have hard, spicy or crunchy foods until your recovery is complete.

Patients can return to normal activities once they can sleep normally through the night, eat a normal diet and not require pain medication. However, any strenuous activities should be avoided for two weeks after surgery.

Side Effects And Risks

Most people feel pain or discomfort for several days after their surgery is complete. This pain is generally managed effectively with rest and prescription pain medications.

Another possible side effect of having your tonsils removed is swelling of the tongue and the soft palate. It’s important to keep an eye on this swelling to ensure that it doesn’t cause any breathing problems.

Bleeding is also a concern during and after surgery. Excessive bleeding may lead to additional treatment and may require a longer hospital stay. The patient could also potentially have a reaction to the anesthetics, although these reactions are generally minor (examples include headache, nausea, vomiting and muscle soreness).

A rare but dangerous risk of having your tonsils removed is an infection resulting from the surgery. Any infection from a tonsillectomy requires immediate treatment.

Certain symptoms may signal that your surgery has led to complications. See a doctor immediately if you have any of the following symptoms after your tonsillectomy:

  • Excessive or persistent bleeding
  • Dehydration (symptoms include weakness, headache, dizziness, thirst and reduced urination)
  • Breathing problems (not including snoring or noisy breathing, which are common during the first week of recovery)
  • Fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher

Bottom Line

Though there are some risks involved (as with any surgery), having your tonsils removed is a very safe and common procedures that causes relatively little discomfort. For those who are good candidates for the surgery, the benefits of having the tonsils removed almost always outweigh the slight risks of undergoing a tonsillectomy.

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