Authored by Revere Health

I’m Getting a Tonsillectomy: What Can I Expect?

July 28, 2017 | Ear, Nose, Throat

The tonsils are two oval-shaped pads of tissue at the back of the throat, and the removal of these pads is called tonsillectomy. A tonsillectomy is often used to treat sleep-disorders or for tonsillitis that doesn’t respond to other kinds of treatment.

Why might a tonsillectomy be right for you or your child, and what are some things you need to know about it? Let’s take a look.

Why Get a Tonsillectomy?

Normally, healthy tonsils produce white blood cells to fight disease and act as the first line of defense against bacteria and viruses. But the tonsils are also vulnerable to infection and inflammation, especially in children. When this happens, it can signal a condition called tonsillitis.

If tonsillitis is frequent, your doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy to prevent recurring cases. In this instance, “frequent” means:

  • More than seven episodes in a year
  • More than five episodes per year in each of the preceding two years
  • More than three episodes a year in each of the preceding three years

Your doctor may also recommend a tonsillectomy if a bacterial infection doesn’t improve with treatment, or if drug treatment doesn’t help with an infection that’s collecting pus. It may also be recommended for complications of enlarged tonsils, bleeding of the tonsils or other rare conditions.

Preparation and What to Expect During Surgery

Preparing for a tonsillectomy involves three primary areas: Information, instruction and questions. Here are examples of information you’ll be asked to provide:

  • All medications taken regularly
  • Personal or family history of negative reactions to anesthetics
  • Personal or family history of bleeding disorders
  • Known allergy or other negative reactions to medications like antibiotics

You may be given the following instructions:

  • Don’t take aspirin for at least two weeks prior to surgery
  • Don’t eat anything after midnight the night before surgery, and follow any other food or drink requirements given
  • Make arrangements for a ride home
  • Plan for a recovery time lasting at least 10 days, possibly up to two weeks or more. Adults may need more time than children.

Questions to ask might include:

  • What are dietary restrictions before surgery?
  • When should I arrive, and where do I check in?
  • Can I take other prescription medications before surgery?
  • What is my recovery time expected to be?
  • What restrictions on diet or activities do I have after surgery?

Tonsillectomy is performed under general anesthesia, so you or your child will not be aware of anything during the procedure itself. The tonsils will be cut out using a blade or a specialized surgical tool.


Pain is common after tonsillectomy, mostly in the throat and often in the ears, but also sometimes in the jaw or neck. Tactics you can try to reduce pain and prevent complications during recovery include:

  • Take medication: These include both prescription and over-the-counter pain medications as recommended by your surgeon or hospital staff.
  • Consume adequate amounts of fluid: Avoid dehydration, something many people do through water and ice pops.
  • Watch your food choices: Choose bland foods that are easy to swallow, and add foods that are easy to chew a soon as possible. Avoid acidic, spicy, hard or crunchy foods that might cause pain or bleeding.
  • Get plenty of rest: Bed rest is important for several days, and strenuous activities should be avoided for at least two weeks.

Risks and Emergency Care

There are a few risks that come with tonsillectomy:

  • Reactions to anesthetics: Mostly minor issues like headache, nausea, vomiting or muscle soreness. Rare long-term problems can occur.
  • Swelling: Usually in the tongue and soft roof of the mouth, which can cause breathing problems.
  • Bleeding during surgery: This is rare.
  • Bleeding during healing.
  • Infection: Also rare, but may require further treatment.

If you notice bright red blood, a fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, severe dehydration or breathing problems, seek immediate medical care for yourself or your child.

If you have other questions about tonsillectomy, your doctor can offer recommendations.

Our specialists have received extensive training and completed a variety of procedures, offering the best ENT care for our patients. As a part of the Revere Health system, our ENT doctors also have access to a variety of specialties to ensure that patients receive coordinated care.


“Tonsillectomy.” The Mayo Clinic.

“Tonsillectomy.” WebMD.

The Live Better Team


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.