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What is tonsillectomy?

A tonsillectomy is surgery to remove the tonsils. Tonsils are organs at the back of the throat which, as part of the immune system, help fight viral and bacterial infections. The surgery is performed under general anesthesia. This means your child will be unconscious and pain-free. The surgeon holds the mouth open to expose the tonsils. The tonsils are then cut or burned away. Steps are taken to control bleeding, and the cut heals naturally without stitches.

Tonsillectomy: The Operation

A tonsillectomy can be performed to remove the tonsil entirely or partially. While the scalpel is the preferred instrument to surgically remove the tonsils, there are other tonsillectomy procedures that may be used.

Specifically, the guidelines for surgery are:

7 or more episodes of tonsillitis in 1 year
5 or more episodes per year over a 2-year period
Enlarged tonsils that interfere with breathing
An abscess in the tonsils
Grossly asymmetric tonsils

In most cases, the surgery clears problems immediately. After surgery, the number of throat infections is usually reduced, but not completely eliminated.

Tonsillectomy: Post-operative Healthcare

Health care professionals advise that the recovery period following a tonsillectomy may be10-20 days. A tonsillectomy is usually done on an outpatient basis, with the child returning home the same day as the surgery. Rarely, the child is observed overnight in the hospital and returns home the day after the surgery. Complete recovery can take 2 weeks. Healthcare recommendations involve prescribed painkillers and a diet of soft food, along with regular fluid intake to minimize pain and the risk of bleeding. Bleeding may occur up to two weeks after the tonsillectomy but, generally, the bleeding will stop naturally, or by gargling cold water. Using a humidifier at home can also bring some comfort. Your child may experience alternating good and bad days for 2 weeks after surgery. It is a good idea to keep your child away from crowds or ill people for 7 days, since the throat is highly susceptible to infections during this period.

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