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If you feel like you’re frequently battling tonsillitis, it might be worth having them removed. Here we explore some of the key benefits of a tonsillectomy.
Tonsillitis may be a common grievant, but that doesn’t mean that you have to live with recurring episodes. A tonsillectomy
is a relatively minor surgical procedure that involves removing the tonsils, significantly reducing your chances of suffering with the condition.
What are tonsils?
The tonsils are small glands either side of the throat that help to stop infection from spreading. As soon as the tonsils become infected, the virus or bacteria stays in the glands rather than spreading to other parts of the body. As we get older, the immune system strengthens and the tonsils are usually no longer used to fight infection.
What is tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis occurs when the tonsils become inflamed as a result of a viral or bacterial infection. They usually swell and feel sore, making it uncomfortable to swallow. Other symptoms include a headache, high temperature (fever), earache and coughing. When we talk of tonsillitis, it normally refers to the palatine tonsils rather than the lingual tonsils, which sit on the back of the tongue.
How is it treated?
Where tonsillitis is caused by a viral infection there is no medication to cure the infection. In these cases, you’ll usually be advised to take painkillers to manage the uncomfortable symptoms. In more severe cases, where pus-filled spots appear on the tonsils and they become so swollen that it is difficult to eat, drink or breathe, doctors may take a throat swab. If the test shows that the tonsillitis is caused by a bacterial infection, then you may be prescribed antibiotics.
When adults or children frequently suffer from tonsillitis, it may be advised that the tonsils are removed.
When is a tonsillectomy recommended?
Children who have at least four episodes of tonsillitis a year for two consecutive years are typically recommended to have their tonsils removed. Adults are able to have a tonsillectomy after fewer attacks. This is because attacks tend to be more severe and adults are less likely to be able to fight off the infection without treatment.
A tonsillectomy is also recommended if quinsy is present. This rare complication is when an abscess grows on the wall of your throat as a result of tonsillitis.
What does a tonsillectomy involve?
A tonsillectomy is performed under general anaesthetic and most patients are able to go home the following day. It is typically a short operation, taking approximately one hour. The tonsils are either cut from the muscle underneath or the area is cauterised using heat.
How long will I take to recover?
While most patients can return home the day after their operation, it can take up to two weeks for the pain to diminish completely. During this period, it’s recommended that you remain off work or away from school to help prevent you from catching an infection while your throat is healing.
What are the benefits?
Studies have shown that removing the tonsils reduces reoccurring sore throats by up to 40%¹. Once the tonsils are removed, repeated tonsillitis usually stops. Patients who often have tonsillitis caused by bacterial infections will benefit from fewer infections and reduced prescriptions of antibiotics, helping to reduce their resistance to the infection-fighting drugs.
By having the tonsils removed, you can prevent further complications as a result of reoccurring infections. These complications include further, more severe illnesses such as middle ear infections, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever and glomerulonephritis. Sleep apnoea is another known complication of tonsillitis. This happens when the walls of the throat relax, making it difficult to breathe while sleeping.
Are there any complications?
Every patient is different and most don’t suffer complications. However, as with any operation there is the risk of bleeding and infection to the wound while it heals.
Some patients have specific complications after their surgery. Lingual tonsillitis can occur; an infection that attacks the lymphatic tissue located on the back of the tongue, but this is uncommon. The treating consultant will discuss all complications in full prior to surgery.
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