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Having Your Tonsils Taken Out

What Is a Tonsillectomy?

Have you ever had tonsillitis? That’s when your tonsils, in the back of your throat, get sore and infected. If tonsillitis happens to you a lot, the doctor may suggest you have an operation to remove your tonsils. Or maybe you have really large tonsils that make it hard for you to breathe at night. That’s another reason the doctor may say they should come out.

Your tonsils are two lumps of tissue that work as germ fighters for your body. The trouble is that sometimes germs like to hang out there, where they cause infections. In other words, instead of fighting infections, the tonsils become infected.

The surgery to remove tonsils is called a tonsillectomy (say: tahn-suh-LEK-tuh-mee).

After this operation, kids usually don’t have as many sore throats. And, if they were having trouble breathing at night, that problem goes away, too. Without tonsils, a kid won’t look any different and won’t have any scars that anyone can see. You don’t need your tonsils, so a kid’s body keeps on working just fine even after they’ve been removed.

But how do doctors get the tonsils out of your throat? Will it hurt? And what exactly do tonsils do back there? Let’s find out.

Before the Tonsillectomy

The night before surgery, you won’t be allowed to eat or drink anything after dinner — not even water. That’s because your doctors don’t want you to throw up during the operation. That would be a mess.

You’ll also need to pack your suitcase if you’re staying overnight in the hospital and bring anything you want to have with you. If you have a special stuffed animal or blanket, go ahead and bring it. It’s nice to have something that reminds you of home when you’re in the hospital.

You’ll probably go to the hospital on the day of your surgery. You’ll check in and get a plastic bracelet that has your name on it. Then, you’ll meet the nurses and other hospital staff who will take care of you. Your mom and dad can stay with you.

Talking Tonsillectomies

Tonsils are removed in the operating room, so you’ll have to take a ride on a gurney. A gurney is like a bed on wheels. When it’s time for your operation, you’ll get a medicine (called anesthesia) that will help you fall asleep and keep you from feeling any pain during the operation.

During the surgery, which takes only about 20 minutes, doctors will open your mouth and remove the tonsils. Hooray for anesthesia because you won’t feel anything during the operation. Before you know it, you’ll wake up in the recovery room.

You may feel sleepy and dizzy at first. But soon you will feel a lot better and your mom or dad will come in to see you. You’ll probably have a sore throat and maybe a slight earache.

What Happens Afterward?

After your operation, it’s important to drink fluids when you wake up. You should try to drink, even if it hurts a bit at first. This will help you feel better and get home faster. Some kids stay in the hospital overnight; others go home the same day as their operation.

You will probably need to take it easy for a few days to a week or more after surgery. Light activities would be fine. If the doctor wants you to stay home from school, talk to your teacher about getting homework for you to do while you’re getting better at home.

Drink fluids during your recovery. Some doctors let you eat what you want. Others may suggest that you stick to eating soft foods.

While you’re getting better, you’ll take medication so you don’t hurt and can eat and drink. You also might get antibiotics (say: an-tye-bye-AH-tiks) to prevent infection. You may see little white patches in the back of your throat. This is normal. After the first week, the white patches will begin to fall off. You also might return to see your doctor for a checkup.

After a week or two, you should feel much better. You’ll be ready to go back to school and play with your friends again. You can tell them all about your tonsillectomy!

Reviewed by: Steven P. Cook, MD
Date reviewed: May 2013