What is a tonsillectomy?
A tonsillectomy is an operation to remove the tonsils. The tonsils are part of a group of lymphoid tissues (like the glands in your neck) that help to fight off infection from germs that are breathed in or swallowed.
What are the benefits of surgery?
Tonsillitis happens if the tonsils become infected. This causes pain, fever and difficulty swallowing and can make you feel unwell.
Your doctor may be concerned that your tonsillitis is caused by a cancer, especially if one of your tonsils is larger than the other or has an ulcer on it. The tissue that your doctor removes will be examined under a microscope to help make the diagnosis. If a problem is found, the healthcare team will discuss the appropriate treatment with you.
Are there any alternatives to surgery?
Surgery is recommended as it is the only dependable way to stop tonsillitis that keeps on coming back.
In children, a long course of antibiotics may break a cycle of frequent infections or the tonsillitis may simply stop after a few years. For adults, this treatment is less likely to be effective, especially following glandular fever.
What does the operation involve?
The operation is performed under a general anaesthetic and usually takes about 30 minutes.
Your surgeon will perform the tonsillectomy through your mouth using one of the following techniques:
- Cold dissection technique – Your surgeon will use a steel instrument to peel or cut the tonsil away from the layer of muscle underneath it
- Diathermy technique – Your surgeon will use a diathermy instrument that uses heat to remove the tonsil and cauterise the area
- Coblation technique – Your surgeon will use an instrument that uses radio-frequency energy to dissolve the tonsil
How soon will I recover?
You should be able to go home the next day.
The pain can last for up to 2 weeks. It usually gets gradually worse over the first 4 to 5 days before beginning to improve, and tends to be worse first thing in the morning.
You will need to stay off work or school and away from groups of people for 2 weeks. This is to help prevent throat infections while your throat is still healing.
Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.
Most people make a full recovery and return to normal activities.
What complications can happen?
Some complications can be serious and can even cause death.
General complications of any operation
- Bleeding on the day of surgery
- Infection of the surgical site (wound)
- Blood clot in your leg
- Blood clot in your lung
Specific complications of this operation
- Small pieces of the tonsil may be left behind
- Lingual tonsillitis
- Change of taste
- Feeling you have something in your throat
- Change in your voice