What is a tonsillectomy?
Tonsillectomy is a surgical procedure to remove the tonsils. The tonsils are two small glands located in the back of the throat. The white blood cells in your tonsils can help you fight infection, but sometimes your tonsils can become infected as well.
Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils that causes the tonsils to swell and cause a sore throat. Frequent episodes of tonsillitis may be a reason for you to have a tonsillectomy. Other symptoms of tonsillitis include fever, difficulty swallowing, and swollen glands around the neck. Your doctor may notice that your throat is red and your tonsils are covered with a white or yellow coating. Sometimes the swelling goes away on its own. In other cases, antibiotics or tonsillectomy may be needed.
This surgical procedure can also be used to treat breathing problems such as severe snoring and sleep apnea.
Who needs a tonsillectomy?
The need for tonsillitis and tonsillectomy is more common in children than in adults. However, people of any age can have problems with their tonsils and need surgery.
One case of tonsillitis is not enough to warrant tonsillectomy. In general, surgery is a treatment option for those who suffer from frequent strep throat or tonsillitis. If you’ve had at least seven tonsillitis or strep in the past year (or every five or more cases in the past two years), talk to your doctor about whether a tonsillectomy is an option for you.
This surgical procedure can also be used to treat other medical problems:
- Breathing problems related to swollen tonsils.
- Snoring frequently and loudly
- Periods when you stop breathing during sleep or sleep apnea
- Bleeding from the tonsils
- Tonsil cancer
Preparing for a tonsillectomy
You must stop taking anti-inflammatory medications two weeks before surgery. These types of medications include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. These types of medications increase the risk of bleeding during and after surgery. Tell your doctor about any medications, herbs, or vitamins you are taking.
You should also fast before midnight before your tonsillectomy. This means that you should neither drink nor eat. Reduces the risk of nausea from a sedative on an empty stomach.
Be sure to plan your recovery at home. After your surgery, someone will drive you home and will have to help you with the first two days. Most people are away from work or school for a week after surgery.
There are many ways to remove the tonsils. A common method is called “cold knife dissection (steel).” In this case, your surgeon will remove your tonsils with a scalpel.
Another common method for this surgical procedure is to burn the tissue through a procedure called catheterization. Ultrasonic vibration (using sound waves) is also used in some tonsillectomy procedures. The surgery usually takes half an hour.
Whichever surgical procedure your doctor chooses, you will fall asleep with regular sedation. You may not know about the surgery or feel pain. When you wake up after a tonsillectomy, you are in the recovery room. Medical personnel monitors your blood pressure and heart rate when you wake up. Most people can go home the same day after a successful tonsillectomy.
Risk factors for tonsillectomy
Tonsillectomy is a very simple common procedure. However, as with other surgeries, this procedure has some disadvantages. These include:
- Narcotic response
Patients experience some pain after recovering from this procedure. You may have a sore throat after surgery. You may also feel pain in your jaw, ears, or neck. Rest for the first two to three days after surgery.
Take sips of water or popsicles to stay hydrated without damaging your throat. Warm, clear broth and apples are ideal food options during early recovery. You can add ice cream, pudding, oatmeal, and other soft foods after a few days. Try not to eat anything stiff, crunchy, or spicy for several days after your tonsillectomy.
Pain relievers can make you feel better during recovery. Take the medicine exactly as your doctor tells you. See your doctor if you develop bleeding or fever after this procedure. Snoring for the first two weeks after the procedure is normal and expected. Call your doctor if you have trouble breathing after the first two weeks.
Most people are ready to go back to school or work within two weeks after this procedure.
Most people with this procedure are less likely to have a sore throat later in life.