Most of us think of tonsillectomies as a kids’ operation. But chronic sore throats from infected adult tonsils aren’t child’s play–and may lessen after a tonsillectomy, according to a 2013 Finnish study at the Institute of Clinical Medicine at the University of Oulu.
Of 86 patients, half had the operation and half did not. Only 4 percent of those minus their tonsils saw a doctor for a sore throat during the six-month follow-up, compared to 43 percent of those who didn’t have the procedure.
When to consider a tonsillectomy
If you have seven tonsil-related infections a year, five in each of two consecutive years, or three in each of three consecutive years, it may be time for a tonsillectomy, says Dr. Laura Cozzi, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, throat physician) at Loyola University’s Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park, Ill. Your symptoms may include a chronically severe sore throat, and even ear pain.
“The more symptoms someone has before a tonsillectomy, the more benefit,” says lead author of the Finnish study, Timo Koskenkorva, an otorhinolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat surgeon) at the Institute of Clinical Medicine at the University of Oulu. Removing tonsils removes the germs living within the tonsils, the source of infection and inflammation.
Deciding on the procedure depends on how you feel and what your doctor recommends, says Koskenkorva: “The same amount of tonsillitis episodes bother some patients more than others.”
So, what the heck are tonsils, anyway?
“Tonsils are lymphatic tissue that is part of the part of the body’s immune system, says Cozzi. They produce white blood cells in case of infection.
About 55 percent of adults still have these immune boosters. “But their role in immune defense is minor, and removing them doesn’t do any harm,” says Koskenkorva.
What does a tonsillectomy involve?
If you and your doctor decide that a tonsillectomy may cut your infections, you’ll most likely have surgery under general anesthesia. The most common procedure involves a wand (coblator) that uses radiofrequency to remove the tissue. The procedure doesn’t usually require stitches, although occasionally one may be necessary. “The suture is dissolvable so it does not need to be removed,” says Cozzi. “Most patients go home the same day.”
The procedure’s risks include bleeding, infection, pneumonia, or problems with the anesthesia, says Koskenkorva.
Ask your employers for two weeks off, suggests Koskenkorva, although not everyone needs that long to feel tiptop.
“The area is completely healed after three weeks,” says Cozzi.
To ease post-op pain, says Cozzi, your doctor may prescribe liquid hydrocodone and Tylenol for two weeks.
You’ll be on clear liquids only on your first recovery day, any kind of liquids on the second, and a soft diet (no crunchy and sharp foods) for two weeks. “Avoid hot drinks and foods,” says Koskenkorva. Eat cooler foods like ice cream.
Signs to watch for? Call your doctor if you have significant bleeding, a fever of 100 or more, or difficulty staying hydrated, says Cozzi.