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Tonsillectomy is a surgical procedure in which the tonsils are removed from the back of the throat. The tonsils are two small masses of lymphoid tissue located on either side of the back of the throat. They play a role in the immune system by helping to trap bacteria and viruses that enter the body through the mouth and nose.

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Everything you need to know

Tonsillectomy is a surgical procedure in which the tonsils are removed from the back of the throat. The tonsils are two small masses of lymphoid tissue located on either side of the back of the throat. They play a role in the immune system by helping to trap bacteria and viruses that enter the body through the mouth and nose.

Tonsil infections are common, but if you suffer from recurrent tonsillitis that doesn’t respond to antibiotics, you might need to get them surgically removed. Tonsillectomies may also be recommended for other reasons, such as enlarged tonsils that obstruct breathing or cause sleep apnoea, or in cases of recurrent or persistent abscess formation around the tonsils.

Symptoms of tonsillitis include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • bad breath
  • severe pain
  • throat infections
  • enlarged tonsils

All these symptoms can worsen at night and during sleep.


Before you can make an appointment for a tonsillectomy, you’ll need to book an initial consultation with an ENT consultant.

At this introductory appointment, the doctor will survey your throat, examine your tonsils, and see if there is a way to relieve your symptoms without surgery.

Surgery is often a last option for us, as even the low-risk surgeries do require recovery time and come with some risks.

If you’re approved for a tonsillectomy based on your symptoms, then we’ll arrange a surgery date for you and inform you of any steps you’ll need to take before your procedure.

Before surgery, you may need to stop taking any current medications that involve aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and certain herbal supplements (as these interfere with blood clotting). You will also need to stop eating or drinking 6 hours before your surgery.


The procedure starts by administering general anaesthesia. The patient is put completely asleep and no pain is felt during the surgery.

Once the patient is under anaesthesia, they are positioned on their back with their mouth held open using a special instrument called a mouth gag.

The surgeon uses dissecting instruments, electrocautery, an advanced energy device, coblator or laser to remove the tonsils. The choice of technique depends on the surgeon’s preference or patient’s condition.

Electrocautery – this method involves using an electrical current to cut and cauterise the tissue, helping to control bleeding.

Cold Steel Instruments – the surgeon dissects out the tonsils carefully and uses a combination of ties and bipolar diathermy to seal any bleeding points.

Laser surgery – a laser is used to vaporise tonsil tissue.

Surgeons may also only partially remove tonsils a procedure known as tonsillotomy.  Although less painful it does have a risk of recurrence.

After the tonsils are removed, the surgeon takes steps to control any bleeding. This may involve using ties, cauterisation, or other methods to seal blood vessels and prevent excessive bleeding. In some cases, the surgeon may choose to close the area where the tonsils were removed with dissolvable stitches. However, in many cases, the area is usually left open to heal naturally.

In general, a tonsillectomy should only takes 20 to 30 minutes to complete, however, more difficult cases can take longer.


Once your tonsillectomy is finished, you’ll be taken to the recovery area.

Once you have woken up from the anaesthetic, the medical team will check your blood pressure, heart rate, and blood oxygen levels – as well as ensure there are no additional complications.

Most patients typically go home on the same day, however, if you feel like you have additional questions or concerns then speak with our staff. In severe cases, we do keep patients in the hospital overnight.

When you begin your recovery journey, it’s important that you take any pain medication administered to you and that you allow ample time to rest. It is completely normal to feel some slight soreness or pain  for about a week or two weeks after the procedure.

It’s important to stay hydrated, but initially, the patient may experience some difficulty swallowing. Drinking cool, clear liquids, and avoiding hot or acidic beverages can be helpful. Ice chips or popsicles may also be recommended to soothe the throat. Initially, a soft or liquid diet is often recommended to avoid irritation to the surgical site. Foods such as mashed potatoes, yogurt, applesauce, and soups may be easier to swallow. Strenuous physical activities and heavy lifting are usually discouraged during the initial recovery period. Rest is important to facilitate healing.

Patients are typically scheduled for follow-up appointments to monitor the healing process. During these appointments, the doctor can assess the surgical site and address any concerns or complications.

The full recovery period can vary from person to person, but most individuals start feeling better within 10 days. However, it may take several weeks for the throat to fully heal.

It’s important for patients to follow the post-operative instructions carefully, including taking prescribed medications, adhering to dietary guidelines, and attending all scheduled follow-up appointments. If there are any concerns or unexpected symptoms, get in touch with us. Overall, a well-managed recovery period is crucial for a successful outcome after tonsillectomy.

Medically reviewed by Mr Nicholas Eynon-Lewis - MB BS BSc FRCS (ORL-HNS) on 10/01/2024

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