What Is a Tonsillectomy?
The tonsils are a very important part of your body. They are located in two glands at the back of your throat. In your younger years, they help produce antibodies that help you fight infections that attack your body. Sometimes, however, the tonsils themselves can get infected.
When bacteria or viruses enter your mouth, the first defenses they encounter are the tonsils, which produce disease-fighting white cells. Because of this, the tonsils can also be easily infected or inflamed. These infections or inflammations are very common among children, whose immune systems are still weak. Their tonsils therefore more frequently come under attack than those of adults.
Symptoms of tonsillitis include fever, pain or difficulty when swallowing, enlarged or tender lymph nodes in the neck, sore throat, a muffled or scratchy voice, and white or yellow patches or coating on the tonsils. You should visit your doctor to get a diagnosis, and if you indeed have tonsillitis, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics or recommend the surgical removal of your tonsils, that is, a tonsillectomy, depending on the degree of infection and frequency of your tonsillitis symptoms.
Why It's Done:
Frequently Recurring Tonsillitis
A doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy to treat frequently recurring tonsillitis. This is when one gets tonsillitis:
- More than seven times in one year
- More than five times each year for two years in a row
- More than three times each year for three years in a row
Complications of Enlarged Tonsils
People are sometimes born with large tonsils, but a series of infections of the tonsils may also cause enlargement. A tonsillectomy may be resorted to if enlarged tonsils cause the following problems:
- Breathing problems
- Sleep apnea or disruptions of breathing during sleep
- Problems with swallowing
Certain Stubborn Bacterial Infections
- When the tonsillitis doesn't improve with antibiotic treatment
- When pus collects behind the tonsils due to a bacterial infection that doesn't respond to antibiotic treatment
- Treat cancerous tissues evolving in the tonsils
- Treat or correct persistent bleeding of the tonsils or the tonsils' surrounding areas
Who Needs a Tonsillectomy?
More children than adults undergo a tonsillectomy. But there are cases where people of other age groups also require a tonsillectomy. It is important to know that at any age, one may need a tonsillectomy.
Doctors do not recommend a tonsillectomy unless there is an important reason for it. Discuss the condition with your doctor to know your options.
Preparing for a Tonsillectomy
Recovering from a tonsillectomy has its own challenges just like any other surgery. Before you go through it, you should plan your recovery process. This will greatly improve recovery time, and you will be more able to control the pain during and find ways to be more relaxed while recovering. Different people talk about different experiences and what helped them or not. You should make time to discuss the dos and don’ts with your doctor.
Planning your post-surgery food and liquid intake is very important. You may feel some discomfort when eating solids. Think of healthy but soft foods to reduce pain or discomfort when eating. Do not overheat your food since hot food may burn you. You will also need to ensure you drink enough fluids. A tonsillectomy may cause dehydration, therefore plan for enough water and include other fluids as water may be hard to consume in large quantities. If it is hard to take cold fluids all the time, you can try warm soup.
Remember that the surgery will afterward interfere with your routine, therefore plan your post-surgery schedule. You might need to stay indoors more than usual--most people stay indoors for around seven days. Plan your activities and avoid very strenuous activities for two weeks as they are not recommended after any type of surgery. You may resume your normal daily activities as soon as you can eat normally again. As for children, you may keep them home a little while longer to avoid their coming into contact with infections in public places. Your doctor should be able to give good advice in case you have any questions about recovery.
There are several risks associated with tonsillectomy. While these risks are rare, you should know what they are:
- Your body might have adverse reactions to the anesthesia. A number of side effects may be experienced including headaches, nausea, and sometimes vomiting. There is no record of the long-term side effects of anesthesia.
- You may experience breathing difficulties after the operation. This is because of the anesthesia and surgery--your mouth might be swollen, and your throat may also be enlarged. This may last a few hours after the procedure, and you may be asked to stay in hospital for a while.
- You may experience excessive bleeding during the surgery and need to stay longer in the hospital.
- Bleeding may also occur after the surgery. This is associated with the scabs falling off too soon. This is a medical emergency and you should see your doctor as soon as possible.
- Even though infections related to tonsillectomies are rare, the operation may sometimes lead to further complications that require treatment.
You may experience pain for a few days after surgery. As you recover, you may experience a sore throat caused by scarring. You may feel some discomfort in your jaws, mouth, neck, and ears. You will require a lot of rest in the first two days of recovery.
You should hydrate your throat frequently. Avoid hard foods that may cause you further injury. Opt for soft foods and follow your doctor’s advice on what and what not to eat.
You will be prescribed painkillers and some other medications. Follow your prescriptions to help you recover quickly.
During the early days of your recovery, you might find yourself snoring. This should not be permanent, however, and not exceed two weeks from the day of the surgery.
Visit your doctor if you see anything unexpected, experience fever, or if you have any questions. Monitor your body’s reactions. You should be able to go back to your normal routine and work or school once you no longer need any pain medication and are able to resume a normal diet and sleep without disruption--typically after two weeks.