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Health Information Center


  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:




A tonsillectomy is the removal of the tonsils. Tonsils are nodes found in the back of the throat.

The Tonsils.

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Reasons for Procedure

Tonsils are part of the immune system. They trap germs that come in through the mouth and nose to prevent infection in the throat or lungs. Sometimes this can cause problems such as:

  • Chronic or recurrent bacterial throat infections that do not respond to treatment
  • Peritonsillar abscess—a pocket of infection spreading outside the tonsil

Removing the tonsils may decrease the number of throat infections.

Some tonsils can also become enlarged and obstruct the flow of air. This can lead to problems like sleep apnea.

Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Problems from anesthesia, such as wheezing or sore throat
  • Infection
  • Injury to the teeth, voice box, or palate

Chronic diseases like diabetes or obesity may raise the risk of problems. Teens who smoke or drink alcohol are also at increased risk.

What to Expect

Problems to Look Out For

Call the doctor if your child is not getting better or has:

  • Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
  • Redness and swelling
  • Increased bleeding or leakage from the wound
  • Pain that cannot be controlled with medicine
  • Nausea and vomiting that is severe or lasts a long time
  • Been spitting or vomiting blood
  • New or worsening symptoms

Call for emergency medical services right away if your child has problems breathing.

If you think your child has an emergency, call for medical help right away.

Prior to Procedure

The surgical team will meet with you to talk about:

  • Anesthesia options
  • Any allergies your child may have
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that your child takes and whether they need to be stopped before surgery
  • Fasting before surgery, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before




  • Tonsillectomy. Cincinnati Children’s website. Available at: https://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/health/t/tonsillectomy.
  • Tonsillectomy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/procedure/tonsillectomy.
  • Tonsils and tonsillectomies. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/tonsil.html.


  • Kari Kuenn, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.