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If you or your child need to have your tonsils removed (tonsillectomy), turn to the experts from University of Iowa Health Care. We’re home to the largest and most experienced team of adult and pediatric otolaryngologists in the state.
Our specialists help kids and adults find relief from painful or chronic conditions that affect the tonsils, adenoids, or throat. These include:
Chronic strep throat
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
Persistent sore throat
Tonsil stones (tonsilloliths)
No matter why you need a tonsillectomy, you can count on our team for exceptional care and support during your surgery and recovery.
Benefits of having your tonsils removed
Your tonsils, which are made of the same type of tissue as lymph nodes, are part of your immune system. They help keep germs from entering your body through your mouth and nose.
In some cases, the tonsils aren’t able to fight new germs. Instead, these germs may infect your tonsils, causing pain, swelling, or other symptoms.
You (or your child) may need a tonsillectomy if:
You have abnormally large (or chronically swollen) tonsils that partially block your airway, causing snoring or OSA
You keep developing tonsillitis or strep throat, and nonsurgical treatments don’t help or stop working
You have bothersome tonsil stones that keep coming back despite home remedies
Getting your tonsils removed can cure OSA or prevent further infections.
Having your adenoids removed
The adenoids are small patches of lymphatic tissue located right behind your nose. They’re also part of your body’s immune system.
Children who need a tonsillectomy often have their adenoids removed at the same time (adenoidectomy). That’s because the adenoids can become infected or inflamed along with your tonsils.
Because the adenoids shrink and usually disappear by the teen years, most adolescents and adults won’t ever need an adenoidectomy.
Safe, skillful surgical care
Tonsillectomy is a common procedure, especially among children. However, as with any type of surgery, it comes with risks. That’s why it’s important to choose an experienced health care team.
You can have confidence in UI Health Care because:
We have outstanding outcomes:
Our otolaryngologists perform hundreds of tonsillectomies every year. Studies have shown that patients who undergo surgery at “high-volume” medical centers have better long-term outcomes, including fewer complications.
We offer unmatched pediatric expertise:
As Iowa’s only nationally ranked children’s hospital, we provide the safest possible care to children who need tonsillectomies. This includes toddlers under age 3, and children with other complex medical conditions who may need to recover in our pediatric intensive care unit.
You’ll have around-the-clock support:
If you need help managing your pain or have complications after your tonsillectomy, you’ll have 24/7 access to our on-call otolaryngologists.
What to expect
In most cases, tonsillectomy is an outpatient procedure. This means you or your child can go home the same day.
However, your provider will let you know if you’ll need to stay overnight in the hospital for observation.
During your tonsillectomy
Your procedure will take place in one of our hospital operating rooms. Regardless of age, it usually includes the following steps:
First, we’ll fit you with a blood pressure cuff and oxygen sensor.
Next, you’ll receive general anesthesia (to keep you asleep during surgery) and a breathing tube.
Once you’re asleep, we’ll place a small instrument in your mouth. This instrument keeps your mouth propped open and holds your tongue to the side.
Your surgeon will use traditional surgical tools or special devices to remove or vaporize all (or most) of the tonsil tissue.
After removing your tonsils, your surgeon will use a heated instrument to seal (cauterize) the open wounds to stop bleeding.
Most tonsillectomies take between 60-90 minutes.
If your child is also having an adenoidectomy, we’ll remove their adenoid tissue first.
Recovering from your tonsillectomy
For most people, it takes about 10-14 days to recover from a tonsillectomy. This means you may miss up to two weeks of school, work, or other responsibilities.
Tonsillectomy recovery is also painful. As the wounds in your throat heal, you’ll need to take certain precautions to minimize your pain and reduce the risk of your wounds re-opening—which can cause serious bleeding.
These precautions include:
Eating soft and/or cold foods (such as yogurt, applesauce, and smoothies) will be easier on your throat.
Increased fluid intake:
Because you’ll be eating fewer types or amounts of food, your risk of dehydration is higher. You’ll need to drink plenty of water, electrolyte drinks, or other fluids while you’re recovering.
Appropriate pain medication:
Children tend to bounce back from their tonsillectomy more quickly, and they may only need acetaminophen or ibuprofen to manage their pain. However, recovery can be more painful for older teens and adults. To that end, we can recommend other types of medication to control pain safely and effectively.
Your provider will give you a complete list of guidelines to follow during your recovery.
An alternative to traditional tonsillectomy
UI Health Care offers certain children a newer procedure called intracapsular tonsillectomy (also known as a partial tonsillectomy).
During traditional tonsillectomy surgery, we completely remove each tonsil. This exposes the sensitive muscle tissue beneath the tonsils, which makes healing painful. And if the scabs that form over these wounds break open, you may have bleeding that requires medical treatment.
In comparison, during an intracapsular tonsillectomy we leave behind the lining of the tonsil (the capsule). By keeping the capsule in place, we do not expose the muscles and blood vessels underneath, which results in more rapid healing afterwards.
Benefits of intracapsular tonsillectomy
With intracapsular tonsillectomy, there is a very small risk of the tonsils growing back over time. However, studies have shown numerous benefits with this approach.
These benefits include:
Less pain after surgery
Lower risk of complications, including dehydration and bleeding
Quicker return to a regular diet
Reduced need for pain medication
If your child needs a tonsillectomy, the otolaryngologist will help you understand which approach is best based on their age, overall health, and reason for needing surgery.
Our Care Team