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Your tonsils are two small glands in the back of the throat, one 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.

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 medications you should avoid before the operation, like aspirin, or anti-inflammatory medication (such as Nurofen). 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.

Tonsil removal and recovery time

When you wake, you will probably have a very sore throat and feel sick. You should discuss with your doctor what medication you could take to help with this, and what to avoid.

You will usually stay in hospital overnight after tonsillectomy, 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.

More information

Visit our Preparing for surgery article for more information about preparing for a surgical procedure. You can also learn more about surgical procedures in general with information such as:

  • things to consider in the days prior to your procedure
  • how to prepare the day before the operation
  • what happens after surgery.

Last reviewed: November 2016

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