Tonsils are two masses of tissue in the back of one’s throat.  Most people will experience at least one episode of tonsillitis in their life.  This would be considered acute tonsillitis. 

Others may have recurrent episodes of tonsilitis or strep throat.  Tonsillitis and/or strep throat refers to inflammation of the pharyngeal tonsils. The inflammation may involve other areas of the back of the throat including the adenoids and the lingual tonsils (areas of tonsil tissue at the back of the tongue).

Those who experience this may want to consider surgical removal of the tonsils, or a tonsillectomy.  A general anesthetic is always used.

A tonsillectomy may be done in the following cases:

  • A person has recurring episodes of tonsillitis in a single year despite antibiotic treatment
  • A person has recurring episodes of strep throat in a single year despite antibiotic treatment
  • Abscesses of the tonsils not responding to drainage, or an abscess is present in addition to other indications for a tonsillectomy
  • A persistent foul odor or taste in the mouth is caused by tonsillitis and does not respond to antibiotic treatment
  • A biopsy is needed to evaluate a suspected tumor of the tonsil

Large tonsils are not a reason to have a tonsillectomy unless they are causing one of the above problems or they are blocking the upper airway, which may cause sleep apnea or problems with eating.

What to Expect After Surgery

The surgery may be done as outpatient surgery or, occasionally, during an overnight hospital stay.

A very sore throat usually follows a tonsillectomy and will last anywhere from 7 to 14 days. This may affect the sound and volume of the person’s voice and his or her ability to eat and drink. The person may also have bad-smelling breath for a few days after surgery. There is a very small risk of bleeding after surgery.

How Well it Works

Children whose tonsils are removed for recurrent throat infections may have fewer and less severe strep throat infections.  Adults who have their tonsils removed after repeated strep throat infections don’t get as many new infections as adults who do not have the surgery.

Risks

Normal or expected risks of tonsillectomy include some bleeding after surgery. This is common, especially when the healed scab over the cut area falls off.

Less common or rare risks include:

  • More serious bleeding
  • Anesthetic complications
  • Death after surgery (very rare)

What To Think About

When you are trying to decide whether to have the tonsils removed, you might want to think about:

  • How much time a child is missing from school because of throat infections
  • How much stress and inconvenience the illness has on the family

The risks of surgery must also be weighed against the risks of leaving the tonsils in. In some cases of persistent strep throat infections, especially if there are other complications, surgery may be the best choice.

Some people think that removing the tonsils may hurt the body’s immune system but research does not support this.

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