Tonsillectomy

*See the bottom of this page for a video on Tonsillitis & Tonsilectomy* 

Why do we take out Tonsils?

Although the tonsils are made of lymphoid tissue that is part of the body's defence system they can be a source of recurrent infections giving rise to frequent sore throats. If these are frequent and severe enough to affect a child or parent's quality of life, then removing them is a reasonable decision.

The tonsils may also enlarge and cause problems with breathing and swallowing. Children may have trouble with breathing at night and this may affect their quality of sleep - a condition called obstructive sleep apnoea. Some children with large tonsils have an increased sensitivity to swallowing harder textured food such as pieces of fruit and meat, which may cause them to gag or choke on such types of food.

How do you remove tonsils? 

A gag is inserted to open the mouth. The tissue overlying the tonsil is incised and the tonsil dissected away from its bed using fine forceps. The actual procedure takes between 15 - 20 minutes, with the whole operation lasting only 30 minutes. Due to the proximity, the surgery is often combined with an adenoidectomy.

FAQs

What should I expect after the operation?

Pain
This is a painful operation. It is important to plan the surgery well as your child will need one-to-one care for 7 - 10 days post-op. Most mothers describe this period as like having a young baby again.

  • The first 3 - 4 days are not too bad but the pain becomes worse on days 5 - 7
  • It is essential to have a structured regime of pain relief. We suggest regular paracetamol, alternating with Nurofen, every 3 hours. For the first 7 days it is important to do this even during the night.
  • It is a good idea to have something to eat about 20 minutes after giving the pain-relief

Where the tonsils were, often looks white. This is the normal healing process and does not mean that there is an infection. Antibiotics are usually given as they help recovery to normal eating.

Ear ache
This is very common after surgery and happens because the same nerve connects the tonsil as well as the ear - a sensation known as referred pain.

Voice change
Parents often find that their child's voice becomes higher after surgery.  This is simply a result of the muscles in the throat contracting to minimise pain.  It is a temporary symptom, but may take a few weeks to fully recover.

Are there any complications?

Bleeding after surgery
The surgery itself is relatively bloodless.  However, post op bleeding can occur in about 1 - 3% of patients and usually happens after about 5 - 7 days.  It is thought to be related to dehydration and possibly secondary infection.  Immediate attendance to your nearest accident and emergency department is essential if this occurs.

Persistent pain
A slow return to oral intake can lead to persistent pain.  Readmission to the hospital for rehydration and antibiotics for 1 - 2 days may be required.

How long before my child can return to school?

It is recommended that your child have at least 2 weeks off school to recover.

When is the right age to take out tonsils?

There is no absolute minimum limit. Most children with recurrent tonsillitis are generally older. Children with Obstructive Sleep Apnoea usually present young and often have surgery at around 2 years of age.

What foods are best?

The best types of foods are soft textured foods. Bread, pasta and yoghurt are usually the preferred foods. Ice lollies and ice cream usually go down well. Citric type foods sting and are best avoided.  

It is easy to become dehydrated, so it is important to have lots of fluids. The key to recovery is frequent swallowing which cleans the tonsil beds.

Will taking out my tonsils increase my chance of getting infections?

There is no evidence that a tonsillectomy compromises the immune system.

Why do I still get sore throats even though I had my tonsils removed years ago? 

Tonsillectomy will only prevent tonsillitis. Recurrent viral and bacterial infections of the throat (pharyngitis) may still occur.