Ear, Nose & Throat

What Happens at a Tonsillectomy?

written by Becki Andrus
What Happens at a Tonsillectomy?

The tonsils are two over-shaped areas of tissues located in the back of the throat, with one tonsil situated on each side of the throat. A tonsillectomy might be recommended if the tonsils are inflamed, infected, or causing breathing issues while sleeping.

A tonsillectomy involves the surgical removal of both tonsils. This surgical procedure was quite common in teenagers and children in the past. But many doctors now only recommend a tonsillectomy as a last resort when other treatment options are unsuccessful.

Reasons for a Tonsillectomy

Is your ENT suggesting a tonsillectomy? Here are a few reasons why it might be necessary to surgically remove the tonsils:

Frequent Infections

The tonsils work as part of the immune system, helping to protect against infections in the body. However, if the tonsils are infected often, then it might be a good idea to remove the tonsils in an effort to minimize future infections.

Medical experts determine chronic tonsillitis based on the frequency of infections. For example, a patient might need a tonsillectomy if they meet any of these criteria:

  • 7 or more infections in one year
  • Two years in a row with 5+ infections each year
  • Three years in a row with 3+ infections each year

Just because someone has a tonsil infection doesn’t necessarily mean that the tonsils need to be removed. Our team of medical experts prefers minimally-invasive treatments first before pursuing surgical treatments.

Breathing Issues While Sleeping

Swollen or inflamed tonsils can cause breathing issues while a person is asleep. Your doctor might recommend a tonsillectomy if your tonsils interfere with your breathing patterns at night.

For example, when the tonsils are swollen, they can be the cause of sleep apnea episodes. The blockage of the airway can lead to a variety of other health concerns due to decreased oxygen. Tonsil removal can get rid of breathing problems related to certain types of sleep apnea.

What to Expect Before a Tonsillectomy?

When a patient is scheduled for a tonsillectomy, the doctor will provide specific instructions to follow before the surgery. For example, it might be necessary to discontinue certain medications a week or two before the treatment.

Additionally, the patient’s stomach must be empty on the day of surgery since anesthesia will be used during the treatment. So, you will be given a specific timeframe in which you need to stop drinking and eating before the surgery.

Your surgeon will request full medical history, including information about a family history of bleeding disorders or adverse reactions to medications, anesthetics, etc.

Make sure you have someone who can drive you home after the surgery.

What Happens During a Tonsillectomy?

A tonsillectomy is performed by an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgeon. First, you are put under general anesthesia, so you will “sleep” through the surgery.

This surgical procedure is done through the mouth, which means that there will be no visible scars or incisions on the skin. The procedure usually only takes between 20 – 30 minutes.

A traditional tonsillectomy involves removing both tonsils completely. Alternatively, sometimes an intracapsular tonsillectomy is done instead, removing the infected tissue and leaving some of the tissue behind.

There is a slight chance of re-infection with an intracapsular tonsillectomy, but it’s uncommon. The benefit of this type of tonsillectomy is a faster recovery, reduced pain, and lower risk of bleeding.

Sometimes the adenoids are also removed during the surgery.

What to Expect After a Tonsillectomy?

After the tonsillectomy is complete, a short recovery in the post-op area of the medical facility is necessary. Often, this surgery is an outpatient procedure, which means that many patients can go home the same day.

Recovery usually takes 10 days to two weeks. Children typically recover more quickly compared to the recovery time for adults.

You can expect moderate or severe pain in the throat area during recovery. Some people also have radiating pain in the jaw, neck, or ears. During recovery, other potential symptoms might include a mild fever, nausea, bad breath, swelling in the throat, and sleep disturbances.

It’s essential to follow specific recovery instructions, such as:

  • Pain Medications: The doctor will recommend particular pain medications to help you stay as comfortable as possible. Take these medications as directed.
  • Hydration: Drink plenty of fluids after the surgery to stay hydrated. Good options include ice pops and water.
  • Food: Choose foods that are easy to swallow, such as broth and applesauce. Eventually, you can add in pudding and ice cream. Other soft foods that are easy to chew and swallow can also be added.
  • Avoid: Certain types of food need to be avoided, including anything that is spicy, acidic, or crunchy. These foods can contribute to bleeding and pain issues.
  • Recovery: Rest is one of the most critical factors that will affect your recovery. Plan to stay in bed for a few days after the surgery. Avoid strenuous activities, such as bike riding or running.
  • Normal Activities: Most people can reduce to work or school a few days after the surgery. Before returning to these activities, make sure you can eat a normal diet, sleep through the night, and no longer need pain medication.

Emergency Care After a Tonsillectomy

Most patients have an uneventful recovery after a tonsillectomy. But, as with any surgical procedure, there is always a risk of complications. Watch for these signs that indicate you might need immediate medical care:

  • Bleeding: Small specks of dark blood in the saliva and nose are normal. However, seek medical attention if you experience bright red blood. It might be necessary to perform another surgery to stop the bleeding.
  • Breathing: If you are experiencing breathing issues, then seek emergency care immediately. Keep in mind that noisy breathing and snoring are common in the first week after surgery.
  • Dehydration: The pain and discomfort make it hard to eat and drink after the surgery. Be careful about and watch for signs of dehydration, such as reduced urination, headache, dizziness, weakness, thirst, or lightheadedness.
  • Fever: If a fever is higher than 102 Fahrenheit, talk to the doctor to rule out potential infection.

Talk to an Experienced ENT

Are you or a child experiencing chronic tonsil infections? Then it might be time to talk to an ENT about a tonsillectomy and other treatment options.

Our experienced team offers ENT services for families in the Collin County and Dallas area. Reach out to us at Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat when you need to schedule a consultation. We offer multiple offices nearby, including locations in Frisco and Plano, TX. It’s easy to fill out the online form for an appointment request. Or you are always invited to call us at (972) 596-4005.

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