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What are tonsils and what do they do?

Tonsils are small glands in the throat, one on each side. They are there to fight germs when you are a young child. After the age of about three years, the tonsils become less important in fighting germs and usually shrink. Your body can still fight germs without them.

Why take them out?

A tonsillectomy (an operation to remove the tonsils) is only recommended if they are doing more harm than good. The main indication is a history of frequent tonsillitis requiring repeated courses of antibiotics and time off school or work.

Another reason for removing the tonsils is if they are large and block the airway. This may manifest as significant snoring at night with brief pauses in the breathing pattern. A quinsy, which is an abscess that develops alongside the tonsil, as a result of tonsil infection is most unpleasant. People who have had a quinsy therefore often choose to have a tonsillectomy to prevent having another.

Before the operation

Arrange for two weeks off work or school. Let us know if you have a chest infection or tonsillitis before the admission date because it may be better to postpone the operation. It is very important to tell us if has you have any unusual bleeding or bruising problems, or if this type of problem might run in the family.

How is the operation done?

You will be asleep under general anaesthesia. The tonsils will be removed through the mouth, and then the bleeding is controlled and then you are woken up and sent to the recovery room.. This takes about 30 minutes.

How long will I be in hospital?

It is advisable to stay in hospital for one night. In some hospitals tonsil surgery is done as a day case, if your home is close to the hospital. Either way, we will only let you go home when you are eating and drinking and feel well enough.

Possible complications

Tonsil surgery is very safe, but every operation has a small risk. The most serious problem is bleeding. This may rarely need a second operation to stop it. About two out of every 100 children who have their tonsils out will need to be taken back into hospital because of bleeding, and most will settle when treated with strong antibiotics. Only one of every 100 may need a second operation to stop the bleeding. Adults have a slightly higher risk of bleeding than children.

During the operation, there is a very small chance that we may chip or knock out a tooth, especially if it is loose, capped or crowned. Please let us know if you have any teeth like this.

What to expect after the operation

You may feel sick after the operation, and may need to be given medicine for this, but it usually settles quickly.

Your throat will be sore for approximately ten days. It is important to take painkillers regularly, half an hour before meals for at least the first week. Do not take aspirin because it may make you bleed. If you are giving painkillers to your child following tonsillectomy do not give more than it says on the label. Eat normal food – it will help your throat to heal. It will help the pain too. Drink plenty and stick to bland non spicy food. Chewing gum may also help the pain.

You may have sore ears. This is normal – it happens because your throat and ears have the same nerves. It does not mean that you have an ear infection.

Your throat will look white – this is normal while your throat heals. You may also see small threads in your throat – they are used to help stop the bleeding during the operation, and they will fall out by themselves.

Some people get a throat infection after surgery, usually if they have not been eating properly. If this happens you may notice a fever and a bad smell from your throat. Call your GP or the hospital for advice if this happens.

Adults and children will need 10 to 14 days off work or school. Make sure you rest at home away from crowds and smoky places. Keep away from people with coughs and colds. You may feel tired for the first few days.

Bleeding can be serious

If you notice any bleeding from your throat, you must see a doctor. Call your GP, call the ward, or go to your nearest hospital casualty department.

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