A tonsillectomy is the surgical removal of
the tonsils . The
adenoids may or may not be removed at the same time.
Adenoidectomy is not discussed in this topic.
general anesthetic is always used to sedate a child
having a tonsillectomy. Adults may need only a
local anesthetic to numb the throat.
What To Expect After Surgery
The surgery may be done as outpatient
surgery or, sometimes, during an overnight hospital stay.
very sore throat usually follows a tonsillectomy and may last for several days.
This may affect the sound and volume of the person's voice and his or her
ability to eat and drink. The person may also have bad-smelling breath for a
few days after surgery. There is a very small risk of bleeding after
A child having a tonsillectomy may feel "out of sorts"
for a period of a week to 10 days. But if the child is feeling well enough,
there is no need to restrict his or her activity or to keep the child at home
after the first few days.
Why It Is Done
A tonsillectomy may be done in the
- A person has ongoing or recurring episodes of tonsillitis.
- A person has
recurring episodes of strep throat in 1 year despite antibiotic
- Abscesses of the tonsils do not respond to drainage. Or
an abscess is present in addition to other signs that point to a
- A persistent foul odor or taste in the mouth is
caused by tonsillitis and does not respond to antibiotic
- A biopsy is needed to evaluate a suspected tumor of the
- Especially in children, the tonsils are so large they affect nighttime breathing, called sleep apnea.
Large tonsils are not a reason to have a tonsillectomy
unless they are causing one of the above problems or they are blocking the
upper airway, which may cause
sleep apnea or problems with eating.
How Well It Works
Children whose tonsils are removed
for recurrent throat infections may have fewer and less severe
strep throat infections for at least 2 years. But over
time many children who do not have surgery also have fewer throat
Adults who have their
tonsils removed after repeated strep throat infections don't get as many new
infections as adults who do not have the surgery. And adults who had the
surgery also don't get sore throats as often.2
Normal or expected risks of tonsillectomy
include some bleeding after surgery. This is common, especially when the healed
scab over the cut area falls off.
Less common or rare risks
- Breathing problems related to surgery.
- More serious bleeding.
- Death after surgery (very rare).
What To Think About
When you are trying to decide
whether to have the tonsils removed, you might want to think about:
- How much time a child is missing from school
because of throat infections.
- How much stress and inconvenience the
illness has on the family.
The risks of surgery must also be weighed against the risks
of leaving the tonsils in. In some cases of persistent strep throat infections,
especially if there are other complications, surgery may be the best
Some people think that removing the tonsils may hurt the
immune system, but research does not support this.
Complete the surgery information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this surgery.
Georgalas C, et al. (2009). Tonsillitis, search date March 2009. BMJ Clinical Evidence. Available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Alho OP, et al. (2007). Tonsillectomy versus watchful
waiting in recurrent streptococcal pharyngitis in adults: Randomised controlled
trial. BMJ. Published online March 8, 2007 (doi:
Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerCharles M. Myer, III, MD - Otolaryngology
Current as ofNovember 14, 2014