Understanding Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy

Side view of head showing nasopharynx, oral cavity, trachea, and esophagus.

Tonsils and adenoids are clusters of tissues in the back of the throat. These tissues form part of the body’s immune system, which helps the body fight disease. If these structures repeatedly become infected or become enlarged, they can lead to problems. They may then be removed with surgery. Surgery to remove the tonsils is called tonsillectomy. In some cases, the adenoids are also removed. This is called adenoidectomy.

Why tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy are done

You may have your tonsils, adenoids, or both removed for reasons that include:

  • Infection of the tonsils (tonsillitis) that keeps coming back

  • Repeated infections of the throat

  • Enlargement of the tonsils or adenoids that affects breathing during sleep. This causes a condition called obstructive sleep apnea.

  • Suspected cancer of the throat

Tonsillectomy can remove part or all of the tonsils.

How tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy are done

This surgery is done in a hospital or surgery center. It usually takes less than 1 hour.

  • An IV line is inserted in a vein in your arm or hand. This gives you fluids and medicines.

  • You are given general anesthesia to put you into a deep sleep through the procedure.

  • A special device is used to hold your mouth open. A tube is put down into your throat to help keep your airway open during the procedure.

  • The doctor uses surgical tools to remove the tonsils and possibly the adenoids.

  • The doctor removes all of the tools.

  • You are sent home when you are awake and recovered from the anesthesia.

Risks of tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy

Risks include:

  • Bleeding

  • Electric burns of the mouth and lip

  • Infection

  • Injury to the lips or teeth

  • Numbness of the tongue

  • Risks of anesthesia

  • The need for a second surgery

  • Voice changes