Do You Need a Tonsillectomy?

What are tonsils?

Tonsils are mounds of tissue located in a pocket on both sides of the back of the throat.  They are made of lymphoid tissue which help the body sample anything that comes in through the mouth to determine if any infectious organisms like bacteria or viruses are present.

Why would you need your tonsils taken out?

Tonsils are helpful to protect the body against infection.  However, in some instances your tonsils can be the thing making you sick or they can contribute to other medical problems.  If they are doing you more harm than good, then removal of the tonsils may be considered.

Reasons for tonsillectomy:

  • Infection – People can randomly get an infection now and again, but if you are getting more than the average number of infections per year or have had several infections per year for many years in a row then it might be reasonable to remove your tonsils.  If your tonsil infections are due to the Strep organism, then even fewer numbers of infections are required to consider removal.
  • Obstruction – Enlarged tonsils can block air from passing well through your throat.  This can lead to difficulties with physical activity, snoring, and in some cases obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Chronic tonsillitis  Symptoms of this include chronic tonsillar pain, sore throat, bad breath, and tonsil stones.  Infection may not be present in these cases.  If this is causing social issues or significantly affecting your quality of life, then tonsillectomy may be considered.
  • Suspicion for cancer – Tonsil masses, ulcers, and other findings like neck masses may prompt your ENT physician to biopsy or remove your tonsils to make sure these findings are not associated with cancer.

How is Tonsillectomy performed?

Tonsillectomy is performed under general anesthesia in the operating room.  In most cases you can go home the same day.  The procedure for children and adults is the same, however, recovery is longer and pain levels are higher in adults.  Adults generally need two weeks to recover while children usually require about a week.

The tonsils are removed through the mouth.  There are various techniques and instruments that may be used for removal, all of which have similar outcomes.  The tonsils are surgically removed from the pouch in the throat where they live.  No sutures are required.  Oral fluids, soft diet, and pain medicines are given in the post-operative period.

Will I be more likely to get an infection without my tonsils?

Although the tonsils are helpful in protecting the body from infection, there are enough similar tissues elsewhere in the body that can more than make up for the loss of the tonsils.  Studies have been performed which show no significant increase in numbers of infection after tonsillectomy.  In patients who suffer from recurrent tonsillitis, usually the tonsil infections are the only reason they are ever sick.  By removing the tonsils, they become sick much less and actually end up being healthier.