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Tonsillectomy: Purpose, Procedure, and Recovery

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A tonsillectomy is the removal of your tonsils. Your tonsils are located in the back of your throat. Tonsils are part of your body's immune system, but removing them does not increase your risk for infection.


Why is a tonsillectomy done?

There are several reasons for a tonsillectomy. The two most common reasons are if:

  • Your tonsils are causing difficulty in breathing during sleep. This is often seen as frequent snoring.
  • You have throat infections that keep coming back (6 or more times in a year), with infected and swollen tonsils (tonsillitis).

Who gets tonsillectomies?

Although it may seem like only children need to have their tonsils taken out, adults may also benefit from having their tonsils removed.

How is a tonsillectomy done?

A tonsillectomy can be performed in many ways. The surgery will be performed under general anesthesia while you are sleeping. The surgery usually takes 20 to 30 minutes. You will not feel any pain while the doctor is removing the tonsils. All of the tonsils are usually removed, but some patients may benefit from a partial tonsillectomy.

A surgeon will use the technique that is best for the particular patient. The most common ways to take tonsils out include:

  • Electrocautery: This method uses heat to remove the tonsils and stop any bleeding.
  • Cold knife (steel) dissection: The tonsils are removed with a scalpel. Bleeding is then stopped with sutures or with electrocautery (extreme heat).
  • Harmonic scalpel: This method uses ultrasonic vibrations to cut and stop bleeding from the tonsils at the same time.
  • Other methods include the use of radiofrequency ablation techniques, a carbon dioxide laser, and/or a microdebrider.

How long is the healing process after a tonsillectomy?

Healing after a tonsillectomy can be different for each person:

  • Pain is common and may get worse 3 to 4 days after the surgery. This pain is often worse in the morning and may last up to 2 weeks. Your doctor will design a medication plan to address your pain.
  • There may be discoloration where the tonsils were removed. When the area is healed completely in about 3 to 4 weeks, the discoloration will be gone.
  • You should plan on resting at home for at least a week after the tonsillectomy, and limit activity for 2 weeks.
  • There is a risk of bleeding after a tonsillectomy. The risk decreases after 10 days.

What should you eat after a tonsillectomy?

After a tonsillectomy, a key to recovery is making sure that you drink enough fluids. Soft and/or cool foods often are easiest for about one week, but you may feel free to add things to your diet as long as you can tolerate the foods. You should still avoid hard and spicy foods.

Recommended items include:

  • Water or any other liquid
  • Ice cream
  • Smoothies
  • Yogurt
  • Puddings
  • Applesauce
  • Broth
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Scrambled eggs

When should you contact your doctor after a tonsillectomy?

After a tonsillectomy, contact your doctor if any of the following occur:

  • Bright red bleeding from your mouth
  • A fever higher than 101⁰F that does not get better with acetaminophen (such as Tylenol®)
  • Uncontrolled pain
  • Becoming dehydrated
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