Tonsillectomy (Tonsil Removal Procedure)

What Is a Tonsillectomy?

A tonsillectomy procedure may be recommended when a patient’s tonsils repeatedly become infected, also known as tonsillitis. Tonsils are lymph nodes in the back of the mouth and at the top of the throat. There are several types of tonsils:

  • Palatine tonsils are located on the right and left sides of the upper throat. These are the tonsils typically responsible for tonsillitis and are the ones removed in a tonsillectomy.
  • Lingual tonsils are located at the base of the tongue.
  • Pharyngeal tonsils (adenoids) are located in the back of the nose. Removal of these tonsils is called an adenoidectomy.

A tonsillectomy is the removal of the Palatine tonsils used to treat tonsillitis that doesn’t respond well to non-surgical treatments as well as sleep-disordered breathing.

What Is Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is the term for inflammation of the tonsil. It is most often the result of an infection. Pharyngitis (the inflammation of the surrounding throat, also known as the pharynx) often occurs at the same time.

Symptoms of tonsillitis are typical of infection and include fever, chills, sore throat and pain with swallowing. Acute tonsillitis can be caused by both viruses such as mono and bacteria such as strep. Generally, younger preschool-aged children tend to get viral tonsillitis. Older children and adults tend to get bacterial infections. Because it alters the immune response, viral infection can lead to bacterial infection.

Tonsillitis can lead to a very severe condition called peritonsillar abscess. The swelling from an abscess can interfere with breathing and must be drained. Relatively small or contained abscesses can be aspirated with a needle or incised and drained via a small incision, using a local anesthetic. More severe abscesses may require a general anesthetic and incision and drainage in the operating room. If not addressed, the infection can spread into the deep neck and chest, which can be fatal. For these reasons, it is important that tonsillitis be treated under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

What To Expect From a Tonsil Removal Procedure

Before tonsil removal, your physician will do a routine check which may include blood tests to ensure you’re healthy enough for surgery. You’ll then get a list of preoperative instructions that you’ll want to follow closely.

Before undergoing a tonsillectomy procedure, you’ll be given general anesthesia to keep you asleep and comfortable. Tonsil removal takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes to complete, depending on the circumstances. You’ll then be transferred to a recovery area where your provider will check your vitals and ensure there are no postoperative complications.

While complications may occur, calling for a patient to stay overnight, a tonsillectomy is typically an outpatient procedure, meaning you can return to the comfort of your home on the same day. After your procedure, you’ll want to drink plenty of fluids and stick to eating soft, cool foods the first week.

Taking a full 10 days off is recommended after a tonsil removal procedure as lying low and staying at home reduces the risk of colds and postoperative infections. For the first one or two days you may experience throat pain, a low-grade fever, fatigue, bad breath, a hoarse voice and a swollen feeling in your throat. The sore throat will continue for around five days and may worsen on day three or four. You may experience mild bleeding due to scabbing five to 10 days after your surgery.

There’s some discomfort associated with a tonsillectomy. Recovery tends to be more difficult for adults than for children. You will be provided with medications and post-operative instructions to help you stay as comfortable as possible as you heal.

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