Your tonsils are 2 small glands in the back of the throat, 1 on each side. They help you deal with infections, particularly in childhood. In some situations, you may need to have an operation to remove your tonsils, called a tonsillectomy.
Tonsillectomy is a common surgery performed in children, but it is also done in adults.
Why is tonsillectomy performed?
You might need your tonsils taken out if you have regular or repeated problems with inflammation or infection in your tonsils (tonsillitis) or around the tonsils. Sometimes people have their tonsils removed because they are big enough to cause breathing problems or sleep disorders.
How to prepare for 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 (Nurofen) and aspirin. Learn more in our Preparing for surgery article.
What happens during 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?
When you wake, you will probably have a very sore throat and feel sick. You should discuss with your doctor what medicine you could take to help with this, and what to avoid.
Some people will go home the day of the operation and some will stay in hospital overnight, but this can be different for different people. Children might need a week or two off school.
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.
What can go wrong?
This is a safe procedure. Sometimes there can be 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 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.
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Last reviewed: November 2020