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What is a tonsillectomy?


A tonsillectomy is the surgical removal of the tonsils. The tonsils are visible glands located in the back of your throat. Tonsils fight infection but can get infected and enlarged themselves. Infection of the tonsils is called tonsillitis. Frequent bouts of tonsillitis can lead to difficulty breathing, sleep apnea (pauses in breathing during sleep), difficulty eating, and ear infections. Your doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy if you or your child suffer from any or all of these conditions. 

Tonsillitis is most likely to occur in children because the tonsils are larger in children, but it can occur in adults as well. A common cause of tonsillitis is a bacterial infection of Streptococcus pyogenes, commonly known as strep throat. Certain viral infections, such as cytomegalovirus and adenovirus infections can also lead to tonsillitis.

A tonsillectomy is a common but major surgery with serious risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all of your treatment choices before you or your child has a tonsillectomy. 

Other procedures that may be performed

Your doctor may recommend removal of your adenoids along with a tonsillectomy. The adenoids are also infection-fighting glands located in the throat. Adenoids can get infected and enlarged along with the tonsils and cause similar problems. 

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Aug 30, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Fact Sheet: Tonsillectomy Procedures.
  2. Tonsils and Adenoids. American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery.
  3. Tonsils and Tonsillectomies. KidsHealth from Nemours.

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