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Tonsillectomy: is it worth the risk?

Whilst tonsils are believed to act as the immune systems first line of defence, their function also makes them particularly vulnerable to infection and inflammation.

Doctor examining patient's throat in hospital after having tonsils removed

Whilst tonsils are believed to act as the immune systems first line of defence, their function also makes them particularly vulnerable to infection and inflammation. Having them out might seem like a simple solution however there are certain risks to consider.

This treatment may be recommended by your doctor if you suffer from persistent tonsillitis or other complications arising from infected tonsils.

Let’s start with the good news:

A tonsillectomy is the most reliable way to end recurrent tonsillitis.

Whilst antibiotics can be used to treat tonsillitis, surgery is the only dependable way to prevent the infection from coming back

The surgery is relatively straight forward

It is performed under general anaesthetic and takes around 30 minutes. This is a safe surgery and, although there are some risks, they are rare.

When you wake it is usual to be suffering from a sore throat and nausea. Your doctor can recommend medication to ease the pain and tell you what to avoid.

An overnight stay in hospital may be recommended for some patients but the length of stay can vary from person to person.

But…

Recovery can take some time

The pain can last for up to two weeks and you should rest and take time off work and keep away from groups of people. If your child has undergone a tonsillectomy they should also be kept off school and encouraged to rest.

Sore throat, pain in the ears, bad breath and white patches in your throat can be normal for up to two weeks after the tonsils are removed. It’s also likely that the pain you or your child experience after the procedure may get worse before it gets better. Regular pain relief may be required for the first week after the operation.

It’s advised that you don’t go swimming for three weeks after the operation.

There is a risk of infection or complication

Although infections and complications are rare it’s important to contact your doctor if you notice any of the following:

  • Fresh bleeding from the nose or mouth
  • Blood in vomit
  • Swallowing much more frequently
  • High levels of pain that prohibit drinking
  • A temperature of 38 degrees or more

These symptoms could indicate an infection or complication of surgery and you should seek medical advice immediately.

There are some risks of longer term complications

Whilst general complications can include pain, bleeding, infection of the surgical site and blood clots there are more specific complications to be aware of. These complications are rare and your doctor will be able to advise you on the best course of treatment if you experience any of these:

  • Small pieces of your tonsil can be left behind during surgery and you may need to undergo further surgery to remove them if they become infected.
  • Altered sense of taste or loss of taste
  • A persistent feeling that you have something in your throat

There are both benefits and risks to this procedure and your decision to go ahead should be based on the advice of your doctor.

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