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Out with the tonsils

Tonsils—they’re those sometimes-irksome glands at the back of your throat. Working in tandem with glands called adenoids, tonsils usually go quietly about their business, trying to keep at bay those bacteria and viruses that enter through the mouth, while adenoids keep things free and clear for the nose. But sometimes the tonsils become infected themselves (called tonsillitis) which, in turn, can trigger repeated throat infections.

T is for tonsillectomy

The removal of tonsils, or a tonsillectomy, was once common. Today, home-care measures (rest, drinking plenty of fluids, humidifying the air) are the first line of treatment for viral tonsil infections, while antibiotics may be used for those cases of tonsillitis caused by bacteria. Surgery is usually reserved for those who frequently experience tonsillitis or have tonsillitis that doesn’t respond to treatment. A tonsillectomy may also be performed if someone is having trouble breathing or swallowing because of enlarged tonsils. Enlarged tonsils may occur because they’re naturally large, or as a result of frequent infections. A tonsillectomy is also the treatment for rare diseases of the tonsils, such as cancer.

Tonsillectomy is usually performed in conjunction with the removal of the adenoids, which is called an adenoidectomy. To remove the glands, a surgeon may cut them out using a scalpel or a special instrument that destroys the tissue via heat or sound waves, while simultaneously stopping them from bleeding.

Tonsillectomy TLC

Recovery typically takes about a week. During this time, you may take pain medications and antibiotics. You healthcare provider will also recommend plenty of fluids, such as water and ice pops (no dairy products are allowed for the first 24 hours after surgery). Bland, smooth foods, such as applesauce, are good for the first day after surgery. Avoid anything hard, crunchy or spicy, and stick to easy-to-swallow foods. Get plenty of rest, too. You’ll likely be able to go back to work when things return to normal—you’ve resumed your regular diet, you’re sleeping well through the night and you don’t need pain medication.

When to see your healthcare provider

So, how do you know if your tonsils or adenoids are being troublesome? Possible symptoms include:

  • swelling of the tonsils
  • very red tonsils
  • white or yellow coating on the tonsils
  • slight voice change
  • sore throat
  • discomfort or pain when swallowing
  • swollen glands in the neck
  • fever
  • bad breath
  • difficulty breathing through the nose, or breathing through the mouth instead of the nose most of the time
  • the nose sounding blocked when speaking
  • noisy daytime breathing
  • frequent ear infections
  • snoring
  • sleep apnea, or periodic stoppage of breathing during the night

Talk with your healthcare provider to help determine the right course of treatment.