What is a tonsillectomy?
Tonsillectomy is surgery
to remove the
tonsils. It's a common surgery, especially in
children, but it is not done nearly as often as it used to be. Tonsillectomy
may reduce how often your child gets throat infections. But even without
surgery, tonsillitis will probably occur less often as your child gets
Your child will get a
general anesthetic and will be asleep during the
surgery. Your child may go home on the day of the surgery, or he or she may
stay in the hospital overnight. Tonsillectomy is usually performed by an
otolaryngologist, a doctor who specializes in ear,
nose, and throat problems.
Your child may have a lot of ear and
throat pain for up to 2 weeks after surgery. A fever up to
102F is also common.
Your child may also have bad breath for up to 2 weeks.
surgery, your child will feel tired for several days and then slowly become
more active. Your child should be able to go back to school or day care in 1
week and return to full activities in 2 weeks.
Who should have a tonsillectomy?
only advise surgery to remove tonsils when a child has repeated infections of
the tonsils that are causing serious problems or are affecting a child's
quality of life. Any decision about surgery should be made with your doctor and
based on your child's health and well-being.
Tonsillitis caused by
a virus usually goes away by itself. It will probably occur less often as your
child gets older. Researchers in one study found that surgery is no better than
taking a wait-and-see approach for children who get tonsillitis less than 3
times a year.2 Your child may benefit from surgery if
he or she is missing a lot of school because of repeated throat infections or
has trouble sleeping because of enlarged tonsils.
all agree on how many throat infections in a year point toward the need for
tonsillectomy. But a general guideline is 5 or more cases of tonsillitis in a
single year, or at least 3 to 4 cases a year for several years in a row.
Some of the serious medical problems that may mean your child
should have a tonsillectomy are:
- Tonsillitis that lasts longer than 3 months,
even with medicine.
- Blocked air passages, which can lead to
- Trouble swallowing.
- Tonsils that bleed heavily.
Talk with your doctor about the possible risks and
benefits of surgery for your child as well as the costs and risks of the
What are the risks of tonsillectomy?
include some bleeding after surgery. This is common, especially when the healed
scab over the cut area falls off. Other risks are much less common. They
include more serious bleeding and problems from the anesthesia during surgery.
Death during surgery is very rare.
Very young children, under age
5, may get upset by being in a hospital.
What are the benefits?
For some children,
surgery can greatly improve quality of life. Enlarged tonsils can block your
child’s upper airway and cause snoring, a stuffy nose, and mouth breathing.
Tonsillectomy can help relieve these problems.
Children who have a
tonsillectomy because of repeated infections may have fewer and less severe
infections for at least 2 years after the surgery. But over time, many children
who do not have surgery also have fewer throat infections.
cases when a child keeps getting
strep throat infections, especially if the infections
cause other problems, surgery may be the best choice.
What else can you do to treat tonsillitis?
Watchful waiting is a wait-and-see approach to treating tonsillitis. If
it seems that your child is getting fewer throat infections over time, he or
she won't need surgery. If your child keeps having infections that are getting
in the way of daily life, you and your doctor can decide what to do
There are a few things you can do to help your child feel
better at home.
Over-the-counter medicines (such as acetaminophen) and
frozen treats such as Popsicles can help relieve a sore throat. Gargling with
warm salt water every few hours can also relieve throat pain. Make sure your
child gets plenty of rest.
If you need more information, see the topic