What is a Tonsillectomy?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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A tonsillectomy is a surgical procedure used to remove a person's tonsils, which are two oval-shaped pads that are positioned in the back of the throat. Often, this type of surgery is required because a person's tonsils have become infected repeatedly. Sometimes it is recommended when a person has an infection that doesn't clear up with other forms of treatment provided by a doctor. In some cases, this type of surgery is even used to remove tonsils that are so large that they interfere with normal breathing.

Tonsillectomies are most frequently performed on children; however, adults may need them as well. Often, tonsillitis leads to this surgery. Tonsillitis is a type of infection in which the tonsils become swollen and painful; viruses typically cause tonsillitis, but bacterial infections can lead to it as well. For example, mononucleosis is a virus that may lead to tonsillitis, and strep throat is a bacterial infection that can have the same result. A tonsillectomy may also be recommended when cancer of the tonsils is suspected or diagnosed.


A tonsillectomy is usually performed under general anesthesia, which means the the patient is usually asleep and unable to feel pain. A doctor uses a surgical instrument to hold the patient's mouth open and places a scalpel or burning tool into the person's mouth. This tool is used to slice the tonsils away from the person's throat and remove them from her mouth altogether. In some tonsillectomies, a person's adenoids, which are lymph masses found in the back of the nose, are removed as well.

Recovering from a tonsillectomy usually involves pain management. A doctor may prescribe a pain-relieving medication or recommend acetaminophen to relieve the pain; medications like ibuprofen and aspirin are best avoided, as they may increase bleeding. The doctor may also prescribe antibiotics to prevent and/or eradicate infections. However, it is best to avoid sick people after having a tonsillectomy, as a person may be more prone to contracting illnesses following surgery. Usually, a patient is told to stay well-hydrated after a tonsillectomy and eat foods that are bland and soft; many find relief from eating cold foods, such as ice cream and applesauce.

Generally, doctors recommend that a person rest and participate in low-impact activities in the first couple of weeks following surgery. This means avoiding things like running, wrestling, and playing contact sports. However, walking and other less physical activities are usually okay.


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