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What is Involved in Tonsil Removal?

By J.M. Willhite
Updated May 17, 2024
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Tonsil removal, commonly known as a tonsillectomy, is a surgical procedure performed to excise the tonsils from the throat. Often conducted with an adenoidectomy, or adenoid removal, tonsil removal is usually reserved as a treatment of last resort. Recovery following this outpatient procedure is centered on self care that manages discomfort and promotes healing. As with any medical procedure, there are risks associated with tonsil removal and these should be discussed with one’s physician prior to scheduling surgery.

Individuals with recurrent throat infections, including strep and tonsillitis, are likely candidates for tonsil removal when antibiotic treatments do not work. Those whose tonsil problems make it difficult to breathe may also undergo tonsil removal to alleviate symptoms. Other situations that may necessitate tonsil removal include tumors, abscess formation, and certain illnesses, such as rheumatic fever.

Conducted under general anesthesia, a tonsillectomy requires the individual’s mouth to be propped open with a sterile instrument allowing for clear access to the tonsils. Using a cauterizing tool or scalpel, the surgeon completely excises the tonsillar tissues located on either side of the back of the throat. If necessary, the adenoid tissues, located just above the tonsils, are also removed. The areas from where the tissues were excised are then left to heal independently without stitches.

Considered a rare occurrence, the risk for tonsillectomy-related complications does exist. Excessive bleeding during the procedure and postoperative swelling has been known to occur. Postoperative infection may also require additional treatment. Allergic reaction to anesthetic medications can trigger a range of reactions from mild headache to nausea and impaired respiration.

In the days leading up to the tonsillectomy, the individual is usually given pre- and postoperative instructions. All medications, allergies and existing health conditions or concerns should be disclosed during this time to prevent potential complications, including any history of allergic reaction to anesthetics. When preparing for a tonsil removal, individuals are instructed to discontinue their use of any medications that may interfere with blood clotting.

Once the individual is home, bed rest is the cornerstone of recovery following tonsil removal. Over-the-counter (OTC) analgesics are often used to alleviate discomfort. In some cases, antibiotics may also be prescribed to eliminate any remaining preoperative infection or as a precaution to prevent postoperative infection from developing. Individuals are also usually instructed to stay hydrated and to only consume foods that are soft, easy to swallow, and not irritating to the throat. People who have had a tonsillectomy usually make a full recovery and are able to return to normal activities without restriction within a couple weeks of surgery.

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