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The tonsils are two small masses of tissue at the back of the throat. They are part of the body’s immune system, which helps the body fight disease. In some people, the tonsils become infected or enlarged. This can cause severe sore throats, snoring, or other problems. Tonsillectomy is surgery to remove the tonsils. This sheet tells you more about this surgery and what to expect.
Prepare as you have been told. Tell your doctor about all medications you take. This includes over-the-counter drugs. It also includes herbs and other supplements. You may need to stop taking some or all of them before surgery. Also, follow any directions you’re given for not eating or drinking before surgery.
The surgery takes about 60 minutes. You will likely go home on the same day.
Before the surgery begins:
An IV line is put into a vein in your arm or hand. This line supplies fluids and medications.
To keep you free of pain during the surgery, you’re given general anesthesia. This medication puts you into a state like deep sleep through the surgery.
During the surgery:
A special device is used to keep the mouth open.
Other tools are used to remove the tonsils from the back of the throat. The tissue is taken out through the mouth.
The device holding the mouth open is then removed.
After the surgery: You will be taken to a recovery room. Healthcare staff will make sure you can drink some liquids. They will also make sure your pain is being managed. When you are ready to leave the hospital, you will need to be driven home by an adult family member or friend.
It will likely take about 2 weeks to heal from the surgery. During your recovery:
Expect to have throat pain. You may also feel pain in your ears. This is “referred” pain from the throat, and is normal. Your post-surgery pain may come and go. It may be worse on the 4th or 5th day after surgery.
Talk as little as possible, if it is painful.
Take pain medication as directed.
Do not drive while you are on narcotic pain medication. Expect to feel sleepy or dizzy while you are taking this medication.
Do not use ibuprofen or aspirin for 14 days after surgery unless your doctor says it’s okay.
Use 2 or 3 pillows under your head while resting. This will help keep swelling down.
Drink lots of chilled liquids. Water, non-citrus juices, and frozen juice bars are good choices.
Eat cold foods and soft foods, which are easiest to swallow. Try foods such as ice cream, gelatin, scrambled eggs, pasta, and mashed potatoes.
Avoid foods that require a lot of chewing. Also avoid foods that may scratch the throat, such as toast or potato chips. Avoid hot, spicy, or acidic foods.
Avoid strenuous activity for 2-3 weeks after surgery.
Be aware that white patches will form in the throat during healing. These are scabs and are not a sign of infection. The patches will come off in 1-2 weeks and may cause bleeding. To minimize bleeding, drink lots of fluids. Gargling with cold water can help.
Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider
Bright red bleeding from the mouth or nose
Severe pain not relieved by medication
Signs of dehydration (dark urine, urinating less often)
Heavy or persistent bleeding in the throat at any time
Other signs or symptoms as indicated by your doctor
Schedule a follow-up visit with your doctor as advised. During this visit, the doctor will make sure you are healing well. Ask any questions you have about the surgery or your recovery.
Injury to the lips or teeth
Painful swallowing during recovery
The need for a second surgery
Risks of anesthesia (the anesthesiologist will discuss these with you)