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Many different types of surgery have been used to perform tonsillectomies — or removal of the tonsils — and a laser tonsillectomy is one of the newer types. A laser tonsillectomy is performed by a surgical specialist who uses a laser beam to remove the tonsils. The surgery can be performed for many reasons and is used on widely varying age groups.
Laser tonsillectomy surgery was developed as a means of reducing post-surgical bleeding and other complications without using extensive anesthesia. The traditional method of using a surgical scalpel to remove tonsils required general anesthesia and was often followed by a fair amount of bleeding. Other methods were developed that required using only local anesthesia. These were not satisfactory for everyone, however, especially in those cases where the volume of the tonsils was reduced without completely removing them.
A laser tonsillectomy generally uses a carbon dioxide (CO2) laser to generate extremely rapidly vibrating infrared radiation for cutting and vaporizing tissue. This type of laser can not only completely remove the tonsils, but it also prevents any bleeding from the surgery. The laser beam can be precisely directed to the back of the throat by a physician or general surgeon. As the beam works, it seals the blood vessels within the area being cut so that bleeding does not occur.
Advantages of using laser surgery to perform tonsillectomies include being able to use it effectively for many different conditions as well as on individuals widely varying in age. For example, tonsillitis — a painful, often recurring, infection that causes the throat to swell in children and teenagers — can be treated with a laser tonsillectomy using local anesthesia. The laser surgery also removes the crevices in the back of the throat known as crypts that house the bacteria leading to recurrent infections. When this area around the tonsils become infected, it is called a peritonsillar abscess.
Sometimes a laser tonsillectomy is used to remove both the tonsils and the adenoids. This is generally not due to infection, but due to enlarged and inflamed adenoid tissue that causes uncomfortable breathing and speaking. The resulting condition is called adenoiditis. Persons who suffer from this can benefit from having laser surgery done as it simply removes all of the excess tissue instead undergoing a lengthy regimen of medicinal therapy.
Others who can benefit from laser surgery of the nose and throat areas are those who have been diagnosed with a nasal airway obstruction or obstructive sleep apnea caused by enlargement of tissues within the nose and throat. These conditions may not respond to being treated with medicines, so laser surgery can be used to correct this condition. The type of laser used in such cases, however, is generally a KTP laser, which has a green laser beam and which vibrates much more slowly than a CO2 laser.