What is tonsillectomy?

Tonsillectomy is the name given to the operation when the tonsils are removed. It is done under general anaesthesia, so you will be fast asleep.

What are tonsils?

Tonsils are the two lumps on either side of your throat. The dangly bit in the middle is called the uvula.

What do tonsils do?

Tonsils help fight infection but sometimes they get infected themselves and if this happens often it is time to get your tonsils removed.

What problems can tonsils cause?

Tonsils can get infected a condition called tonsillitis or they can swell up and make it difficult to breathe at night when sleeping.

What is tonsillitis like?

Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils. The throat is usually very sore, it hurts to swallow and untreated it lasts about 1-2 weeks. It usually responds quickly to antibiotics. Tonsillitis is often associated with enlarged lymph nodes in the upper neck and a raised temperature. People with tonsillitis usually feel unwell and need to take time off work or school.

Can tonsils cause snoring?

Big tonsils are a frequent cause of snoring in children. Big tonsils can also contribute to snoring in adults.

Why do people get their tonsils removed?

People get their tonsils removed for two main reasons:

1.   Recurrent tonsillitis

2.   Snoring or obstructive sleep apnoea.

What are the benefits of tonsillectomy?

After tonsillectomy, there is no more tonsillitis, because the tonsils have been removed. Sometimes the tonsils can regrow although this is uncommon and if this happens it the regrown tonsils can get tonsillitis.

Tonsillectomy cures most cases of snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea in children. Tonsillectomy can help with snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea in adults.

What are the risks of tonsillectomy?

The main risk of tonsillectomy is bleeding which occurs in about 4% of patients. Please tell your doctor prior to surgery if you bleed or bruise easily. Bleeding can occur either from the mouth or the nose and may be mild or very heavy. It can occur up to nearly three weeks following surgery. If you bleed then go to your local emergency department and call your surgeon.

A few people get velopharyngeal insufficiency (VPI). This is when the soft palate does not seal off against the back wall of the throat properly. This can result in air escaping through the nose when talking or fluid escaping through the nose when drinking. This usually resolves with time.

Occasionally there may be a metallic taste in throat after tonsillectomy if the glossopharyngeal nerve has been bruised or injured. Usually this also resolves with time.

What is it like getting your tonsils out?

Tonsillectomy is usually done as a day case. That means you will be in and out of hospital in the one day and not stay overnight. You will need to have nothing to eat or drink for about eight hours before your surgery. Afterwards you will have a sore throat. It is important to take the pain medication your doctor prescribes regularly so the pain is not too bad. It is common for the throat to feel worse in the morning when you wake up because you are dry and also because you may not have taken any pain medication for a while. Usually the pain gets worse about 6 or 7 days after surgery for a day or two. This is a sign that you are nearly better. Usually the throat is sore for about 10 days in total although some people have a sore throat for 14 days.

What should I eat after tonsillectomy?

The answer is anything you can manage. Some people find it easiest to eat soft food after tonsillectomy. Many children like to eat ice cream. Now is not a good time for parents to get into battles with their child about what they should or should not eat. It is very important to drink plenty of fluids after tonsillectomy even though the throat is sore. This helps prevent dehydration and improves overall well being.

When can I go back to school / work?

Most people need about two weeks off school or work to recover from the surgery. During this time you should not travel long distances and should not go to remote places far away from medical care. You should not fly for about 3 weeks following tonsillectomy.