What are tonsils?
Tonsils are areas of soft tissue at the back of the throat. You can usually see them if you look in a mirror and open your mouth wide. They are the two lumps at the back of your throat. You have similar tissue behind your nose called adenoids and on the base of your tongue far down your throat called lingual tonsils. All of this tissue is part of your immune system. It serves to help your body see invaders like bacteria and viruses. Luckily there is lots of similar tissue that does the same job in your body so removing your tonsils and adenoids doesn’t affect your ability to fight disease.
What is a tonsillectomy?
A tonsillectomy is a surgical procedure to remove the tonsils. It’s done under a general anesthetic, which means the patient is completely asleep during the procedure. Many times, especially in children the adenoids are removed at the same time. Sometimes the combination of the two procedures is called an adenotonsillectomy.
In children 3 and older and in adults it is usually done as an outpatient procedure, which means you go home the same day. Sometimes it may be necessary to stay in the hospital overnight after the procedure and your surgeon will discuss this with you.
Why remove tonsils?
The two most common reasons to remove tonsils are for obstruction and chronic infection.
If you notice that your child snores at night and especially if you notice pauses in their breathing they should be evaluated. Pausing in breathing at night because the tonsils are blocking the throat is called Obstructive Sleep Apnea. This can cause fitful, restless sleep and fatigue during the day. If it is severe enough and goes on long enough it can cause problems in school or behavior or even damage to the heart and lungs. For most children removing the tonsils and/or adenoids is enough to relieve sleep apnea.
Some children have their tonsils removed because of recurrent or chronic infections, especially streptococcus (strep) in their throat. There are specific criteria for removing tonsils because of infections and you should talk to your pediatrician or otolaryngologist if you are concerned about throat infections.
There are other less common reasons to remove tonsils and/or adenoids and if your child suffers from these your otolaryngologist will discuss them with you.