Why get a tonsillectomy?
A tonsillectomy is a procedure to remove the tonsils, which are in the back of your throat and help fight infection. The American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery recommends that children who have three or more tonsil infections a year undergo a tonsillectomy.
Also, children with sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or snoring, might also be candidates for some form of the surgery, including the removal of the adenoids.
A tonsillectomy is performed a variety of ways, including using a scalpel, cauterization or ultrasonic energy.
What happens when you get a tonsillectomy?
A tonsillectomy is generally a quick procedure that can take about 10 minutes. To begin, you will be put under general anesthesia, meaning you'll go into a deep sleep. You will likely have a tube in your throat to help you breathe. You'll have a device placed in your mouth to open your mouth and push your tongue out of the way.
From there, your surgeon will remove your tonsils. One of the most common methods to remove the tonsils is cold knife dissection, or using a scalpel to remove them. During this type of procedure, your surgeon will peel out the tonsils, which have a capsule around them.
Electrocautery is another common method. This involves a surgeon burning the tonsillar tissue and cauterization the area to reduce blood loss.
There's a hole that's left behind that will fill with a white substance, but this isn't because the area is infected.
Does it hurt?
Yes. The back of your throat will hurt for about 10 days. You'll be prescribed prescription pain medication to help with the pain. It might be hard to swallow and thus painful to eat or drink. However, it's important to drink enough fluids, for you could get dehydrated. It might also be hard to sleep because of the pain.
What are the risk factors?
As with any surgery, there's a risk that you'll have a reaction to the anesthesia and also that you'll bleed during surgery.
After the surgery, some patients experience bleeding when their scabs start to fall off, and they sometimes have to be taken back to surgery. This usually isn't life threatening and isn't necessarily occurring because there's something wrong. Rather, the throat is always bathed in mucus, saliva and food, and that can sometimes cause complications while healing from a tonsillectomy.
In rare cases, bleeding from the surgery could go unnoticed. If you find yourself swallowing a lot, that could be a sign that the area where your tonsils were is bleeding.
What's the recovery time?
After surgery, you probably won't stay the night at the hospital. A full recovery can take up to two weeks. You'll likely need to stay home from school or work, and you'll need to rest.
Because of a risk of infection to the area that's healing, you should try to avoid being around people who are sick for the first week.
What's the follow-up?
Your doctor will likely want to see you shortly after the surgery to check on how you're healing. After the surgery, you should experience fewer throat infections.
Sources: Dr. Keith Clark, an otolaryngologist at the Oklahoma City Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic; the U.S. National Library of Medicine; the Mayo Clinic; American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery.