Tonsillectomy factsheet

Introduction

The tonsils are two small pieces of soft fleshy tissue found at the back of the throat. They are part of the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system is part of the immune system. It helps your child’s body to fight infection and illness by:

  • managing fluids
  • carrying white blood cells through the body
  • filtering out germs.

The tonsils store white blood cells and work to filter out germs that enter the body through the airways.

Tonsils can cause health issues in some children when they:

  1. are unusually large or swollen, making it difficult for your child to breathe, swallow or sleep
  2. get infected frequently, also called tonsilitis.

When this happens, the tonsils may need to be removed by a surgeon. This procedure is called a tonsillectomy.  

A tonsillectomy can be done on its own, or it may be done with other procedures that involve the ear, nose, and throat (ENT) system.

These procedures can include:

Tonsils are not an essential organ. Your child’s immune system will still work without the tonsils.

 Before the procedure

The hospital will call you before your child’s procedure to let you know:

  • what time you need to arrive
  • when your child needs to stop eating and drinking
  • whether it is a day procedure or whether they will stay overnight in the hospital
  • whether they need to stop taking any medications.

 During the procedure

Your child will be under a general anaesthetic for the procedure. This means they will be asleep and will not feel any pain.

The surgeon will remove the tonsils from your child’s mouth. This means there will be no cuts to the skin.

The procedure will take around 30 minutes. However, it will take longer if any other procedures are happening at the same time.
 

 After the procedure

When your child wakes up from surgery, they might feel sleepy and sick while the general anaesthetic wears off. 

Your child may also have a sore throat and ear pain. This is normal.

When your child is ready to go home, you will be given pain medicine and specific instructions to help care for them. This will include instructions for giving pain medication and advice on which medicines to avoid. This is because some medicines can increase the risk of bleeding.

Speak to the nurse or doctor if you have concerns about medication before going home.

 Management

Managing pain

Your child will have some pain and discomfort for a few weeks after the procedure as their throat heals. This should settle and can be managed with medication prescribed by your child’s doctor.

Always follow your doctor or pharmacist's instructions for giving pain medication, and never give your child medication that contains aspirin. Aspirin can cause serious medical problems and increase the risk of bleeding after surgery.

Encourage your child to rest and provide distractions like music, movies and reading.

Speak to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any concerns about pain medication or if your child is unable to eat or drink from pain.

Fluids and food

Pain and discomfort in the throat after the procedure can make it difficult for children to eat and drink. Your child must have a good amount of fluids after the procedure to prevent dehydration. Fluids and swallowing will also help keep the throat moist as it heals and wash away any germs that may build up.

Encourage your child to drink fluids like:

  • water
  • ice-blocks
  • milk
  • cordial
  • apple juice
  • broth.

Avoid harsh or acidic fluids like orange juice, which irritates the throat.

Soft foods can also help your child to get enough fluid, including:

  • soups
  • smoothies
  • jelly
  • pudding
  • yoghurt.

Foods like scrambled eggs, pasta and mashed potato can also help your child during recovery.

Avoid hard or sharp foods that may scratch your child’s throat.

Follow your child’s lead and slowly return to their regular diet as they feel better.

Returning to school and sport

Tonsillectomy can be painful for children, and they may need to be home from school or daycare for 1-2 weeks while they recover.

Your child should avoid sports and active play for at least two weeks or as recommended by their doctor.

Avoiding illness

Your child should avoid contact with people who are unwell or showing cold and flu symptoms for at least two weeks after the procedure. 

When to see your doctor

After the procedure, see your local doctor as soon as possible if your child:

  • has bright red bleeding coming from their nose or throat
  • has bright red blood in their vomit
  • suddenly needs to swallow more frequently, which could be a sign of bleeding
  • cannot drink enough fluids
  • vomits more than four times
  • has a temperature of 38°C or higher 
  • has a severe sore throat that doesn’t get better or gets worse.

Go to your nearest emergency department if your child has a lot of bright, red blood coming from the throat. This bleeding can happen at any time following the procedure but is more likely within the first two weeks.

Last updated Monday 27th May 2024

Disclaimer

This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.


© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024