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What Is the Standard Procedure for a Tonsillectomy?

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  • Written By: Rebecca Harkin
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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The procedure for a tonsillectomy involves anesthetizing the patient, inserting a nasal breathing tube, propping the mouth open, removing the tonsils, and stopping any bleeding. A tonsillectomy is typically a one-hour long out-patient procedures, and recovery takes one to two weeks. This procedure is usually recommended when frequent tonsillitis causes sleep apnea or difficult swallowing and breathing. The adenoids are also sometimes removed during an tonsillectomy.

Before the procedure for a tonsillectomy begins, the patient is given a sedative to relax them. An intravenous line will be placed in the arm to administer fluids and antibiotics. Once in the operating room, the surgical procedure for a tonsillectomy will begin by administering general anesthesia. In order to keep the mouth clear for surgery, a breathing tube will be snaked through the nose and then down the throat. The mouth will then be propped open, the tongue will be held out of the way and, if necessary, the back of the throat will be covered with cotton to collect any blood.

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There are several methods that can be used to remove the tonsils. The tonsils can be cut away with a scalpel blade, laser, or a microdebrider, a rotating cutting instrument with suction. Two new techniques that are sometimes used either break down the tonsil tissue using radio frequency energy or destroy the tonsil tissue with an electrical heat probe. Once the tonsils have been removed, the bleeding will be stopped by cauterizing the wound or using tiny stitches. The procedure of a tonsillectomy typically takes about one hour.

Following the tonsillectomy, the patient will be placed in a recovery room until the anesthesia has worn off and the breathing tube can be removed. Most tonsillectomies are done as out-patient procedures or will only require one night in the hospital. After surgery, the patient will be instructed to drink frequently, eat small quantities of soft food, and will be given pain medication to use as needed. Immediate pain will be in the throat, jaw, and neck. Throat pain may persist for one to two weeks.

The adenoids are lymphatic tissue located just above the tonsils and will often become infected along with the tonsils. When frequent and persistent adenoiditis occurs along with tonsillitis, they may also be removed during a tonsillectomy. The surgical procedure is the same for both extractions, and the added removal of the adenoids typically only prolongs the surgery by about 30 minutes.

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