Tonsillectomy

Tonsillectomy (ton-sih-LEK-tuh-me) is the surgical removal of the tonsils, two oval-shaped pads of tissue at the back of the throat — one tonsil on each side.

A tonsillectomy was once a common procedure to treat infection and inflammation of the tonsils (tonsillitis). Today, a tonsillectomy is usually performed for sleep-disordered breathing but may still be a treatment when tonsillitis occurs frequently or doesn't respond to other treatments.

A tonsillectomy may also be necessary to treat breathing and other problems related to enlarged tonsils and to treat rare diseases of the tonsils.

Recovery time for a tonsillectomy is usually at least 10 days to two weeks.


Why it's done Risks How you prepare What you can expect

A tonsillectomy is used to treat:

  • Recurring, chronic or severe tonsillitis
  • Complications of enlarged tonsils
  • Other rare diseases of the tonsils

Tonsillitis

Tonsils produce certain types of disease-fighting white blood cells. Therefore, the tonsils are believed to act as the immune system's first line of defense against bacteria and viruses that enter your mouth.

This function may make them particularly vulnerable to infection and inflammation. The problem is more common in children because the immune system function of tonsils is most active before puberty. Also, unlike an adult's immune system, a child's system has had less exposure to bacteria and viruses and has yet to develop immunities to them.

A tonsillectomy may be recommended to prevent frequent, recurring episodes of tonsillitis. Frequent is generally defined as:

  • More than seven episodes a year
  • More than five episodes a year in each of the preceding two years
  • More than three episodes a year in each of the preceding three years

The procedure may also be recommended if:

  • A bacterial infection causing tonsillitis doesn't improve with antibiotic treatment
  • An infection that results in a collection of pus behind a tonsil (tonsillar abscess) doesn't improve with drug treatment or a drainage procedure

Complications of enlarged tonsils

Tonsils may become enlarged after frequent or persistent infections, or they may be naturally large. A tonsillectomy may be used to treat the following problems caused or complicated by enlarged tonsils:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Disrupted breathing during sleep
  • Difficulty swallowing

Other diseases of the tonsils

A tonsillectomy may also be used to treat other rare diseases or conditions of the tonsils, such as:

  • Cancerous tissue in one or both tonsils
  • Recurrent bleeding from blood vessels near the surface of the tonsils
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