What to expect during a tonsillectomy | 3 min read

What is a tonsillectomy?

A tonsillectomy is surgery to remove the tonsils. Tonsils are lumps of tissue on both sides of the back of the throat that help protect the body from infections. It is one of the most common surgeries kids and teens get.

Why are tonsillectomies done?

Kids usually have a tonsillectomy because their tonsils are so big, they block the airway and make it hard to breath, especially during sleep. A child might snore and stop breathing for short periods while asleep when the tonsils get in the way. A healthcare provider might also recommend removing the tonsils if a child gets a lot of tonsil infections.

What happens before a tonsillectomy?

Your health care provider will let you know if your child should stop taking any medicine in the week or two before the surgery. You’ll also be told when your child should stop eating and drinking because the stomach must be empty on the day of the procedure.

Surgery, no matter how common or simple, can be scary for kids. Help prepare your child by talking about what to expect.

What happens during a tonsillectomy?

An ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgeon will do the surgery while your child is under general anaesthesia. An anaesthesiologist will keep your child safely and comfortably asleep during the procedure. The surgery is done through your child’s open mouth. There are no cuts through the skin and no visible scars.

Can I stay with my child during a tonsillectomy?

Your child will wake up in the recovery area and go home the same day. Recovery after a tonsillectomy may take a week or more. Expect some pain and discomfort after the tonsils are removed, which can make it hard for kids to eat and drink.

Are there any risks for a tonsillectomy?

There are risks with any surgery, including infection and problems with anaesthesia. Rarely, bleeding might happen during the surgery, right after it, or up to 2 weeks later. Call the doctor right away if your child coughs up, throws up, or spits out bright red blood or blood clots. Doctors might need to do another procedure to stop the bleeding.

How can I help my child feel better?

Give your child pain medicine as directed by your healthcare provider. Offer plenty to drink, and soft foods like pudding, soup, or mashed potatoes until your child is ready for solid foods. Kids should rest at home for a few days following surgery and take it easy for a couple of weeks. They should avoid blowing their nose for 2 weeks after surgery, as well as any rough playing or contact sports. They can return to school or childcare when they can eat normally, are sleeping well, and don’t need pain medicine.

When should I call the doctor?

Call the doctor if your child:

  • gets a fever
  • vomits after the first day or after taking medicine
  • has a sore throat despite taking pain medicine
  • isn’t drinking enough liquids
 

Call the doctor right away if your child vomits blood or something that looks like coffee grounds, or has trouble breathing.

What else should I know?

After tonsillectomy, kids can still get colds, sore throats, and throat infections. They won’t get tonsillitis unless the tonsils grow back, which is uncommon.

Dr Patrick Barth

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