Tonsillitis usually gets better on its own, without any treatment. Most people recover from tonsillitis within a week and even antibiotics aren’t usually required.
However, if you suffer from frequent bouts of tonsillitis, or if the symptoms of tonsillitis affect your normal functions, such as breathing or swallowing, then you may be recommended to have your tonsils removed. This operation may also be recommended if you have a peritonsillar abscess (quinsy), which is a rare but potentially serious complication of tonsillitis.
The operation to remove the tonsils is called a tonsillectomy, and it provides long-term relief from repeated bouts of tonsillitis.
A tonsillectomy is carried out under general anaesthetic so you’ll be asleep during the operation. Sometimes it can be carried out as day surgery, when you can return home on the same day; howeveran overnight stay in hospital is usually required.
The tonsils are removed by carefully cutting or peeling them away from the surrounding tissues. The operation is carried out through your mouth, so no external incisions are required. The procedure, which takes around half an hour, can be performed using a number of different methods:
- Traditional surgery uses blades to cut out the tonsils. Bleeding is controlled by applying pressure or sealing the blood vessels using heat (cauterising).
- Diathermy uses a heated probe to destroy tissue around the tonsils, remove the tonsils and simultaneously seal the blood vessels to stop any bleeding.
- Coblation (or cold ablation) is a similar method to diathermy but uses lower temperatures.
- Lasers are high-energy beams that can cut away the tonsils and seal the blood vessels to prevent bleeding.
- Ultrasound uses high-energy waves that work like lasers.
Each of these methods offers a very similar outcome in terms of patient safety, recovery and long-term results.
After the operation you’ll have a very sore throat and we’ll help manage any pain or discomfort with painkillers. You’ll be encouraged to have regular mouth washes and to start drinking and eating as soon as you feel you can.
We’ll discuss your aftercare and any follow-up appointments with you before you go home, which will usually be the day after surgery.
You will probably need to take about two weeks off work and your sore throat will last for a similar period. Part of the reason for staying away from work during this time is to try to avoid any chance of picking up an infection while your throat is healing.
As with any surgical procedure there is some risk of infection of the wound after the operation.
A potential complication of a tonsillectomy is bleeding at the site of the operation. This is fairly common. Minor bleeding isn't a problem and will usually clear up by itself or by gargling with cold water; this shrinks the blood vessels helping to stop the bleeding. Occasionally, the bleeding is more severe; if this is the case you should seek immediate medical advice.