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Tonsillectomy

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Your tonsils are 2 small glands in the back of the throat that help your body respond to infections.
  • The operation done to remove your tonsils is called a tonsillectomy.
  • You may need to have a tonsillectomy if you have frequent or severe infections of your tonsils or have sleep or breathing problems due to large tonsils.
  • A tonsillectomy is done under general anaesthetic, and you will usually go home on the same day or the day after your operation.
  • A tonsillectomy is a safe procedure but sometimes there can be bleeding or infection in the area where the tonsils used to be.

What is a tonsillectomy?

Your tonsils are 2 small glands in the back of the throat, 1 on each side. They help your body deal with infections, particularly in childhood. In some situations, you may need to have an operation to remove your tonsils. This operation is called a tonsillectomy.

Tonsillectomy is a common surgery performed in children, but it is also sometimes needed for adults.

Why is a tonsillectomy performed?

You might need your tonsils taken out if you have frequent problems with inflammation or infection in your tonsils (tonsillitis) or around your tonsils. Sometimes people have their tonsils removed because they are so big that cause breathing problems or sleep disorders.

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What are the benefits of surgery?

Surgery mostly benefits people who have more severe medical conditions. For example, children with frequent and severe tonsilitis as well children with severe snoring or sleep apnoea benefit from surgery. Children with less severe symptoms often improve as they get older and don’t need surgery.

How do I prepare for a tonsillectomy?

You will need to fast (not have anything to eat or drink) for some time before your tonsillectomy — the hospital or your doctor will give you specific instructions about this.

There might be some medicines you should avoid before the operation, like anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen and aspirin. If you are unsure about your medicines, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Learn more in our Preparing for surgery article.

What happens during a tonsillectomy?

You will be given a general anaesthetic, so you will be asleep for the operation. The doctor will remove the tonsils through your mouth, so there are no cuts to the skin.

What happens after a tonsillectomy?

After you wake up, you will probably still be a bit sleepy for a while, have a very sore throat and may feel nauseous or vomit. The nausea usually settles quickly, and you will be given medicines to manage your pain.

Some people will go home the day of the operation, and some will stay in hospital overnight. Children might need a week or 2 off school.

Once you go home, it might help to avoid certain foods, like oranges and lemons, which can hurt your throat.

It is normal to have a white patch in the throat where the tonsils used to be.

Complications of a tonsillectomy

Tonsillectomy is a safe procedure. Sometimes there can be a small amount of bleeding, or infection in the area where the tonsils used to be.

If you have fresh bleeding, or a high temperature, or you cannot eat or drink, you should call your doctor or the hospital. If the bleeding is heavy, you should go to the hospital emergency department immediately.

If you live in a rural or remote area, it is important to stay close to the hospital in which you had your surgery for 1 to 2 weeks after surgery, due to the risk of bleeding. Read more about rural health services in your state or territory.

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Resources and support

Learn more about surgical procedures in general with information such as:

For more information about tonsillectomy, including what happens before, during and after surgery, see the Sydney Childrens Hospitals Network website.

Call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 at any time to speak to a registered nurse (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria) for more information and advice.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2024


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Tonsillectomy factsheet | The Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

This factsheet provides information about what to expect before, during and after your child's tonsillectomy (removal of the tonsils) and management after the procedure.

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Tonsillitis: children and teenagers | Raising Children Network

Tonsillitis is when the tonsils get inflamed. Symptoms include a sore throat. If you think your child has tonsillitis, you should take your child to a GP.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

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