A tonsillectomy is the surgical removal of tonsils. The procedure is among the most common surgical procedure in the United States. Medical workers view the surgery as minor or critical depending on the circumstances. Recent studies have shown that leaving swollen, infected tonsils alone is a recipe for disaster. However, there is also an inherent risk in their removal.
Benefits of Tonsillectomy
If you have recurrent tonsil infections, then you might be a candidate for tonsillectomy. Tonsils can be infected by Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus bacterial, Haemophilus influenzae, viruses and Pneumococcus bacteria. The infected party is often exposed to pain, ear-related complications, fever and lost productivity.
If you’re struggling with tonsil complications, you might experience improved sleep after going through the procedure. This is one of the major benefits of tonsillectomy. Sleep interruption usually occurs in the form of obstructive sleep apnea brought about by chronically swollen or unusually enlarged tonsils. This condition interferes with your breathing during sleep as a result of obstruction in the throat.
According to the Texas Pediatric Surgical Associates, cancerous or benign tumors can grow in a tonsil. Lymphoma and carcinoma are particularly prevalent among adults while children are more susceptible to lymphoma. If one tonsil shows signs of a tumor or unusual growth, the surgeon will remove both tonsils.
Tonsils help to trap dead cells and bacteria. While this is a good thing, it can be a two edged sword. Debris can remain in the tonsil, causing an offensive smell and altering taste. While getting a tonsillectomy might seem extreme in such a case, it might be worthwhile if the odor is affecting your quality of life.
Possible Risks of Tonsillectomy
Common Post-Surgical Problems
While the benefits of tonsillectomy are rather apparent, there are also some side effects. Many people experience vomiting, nausea, difficulty swallowing, bad breath, low grade fever, fatigue, ear aches and throat pain after the procedure. The severity and frequency of the side effects vary. Children tend to recover faster and have it easier than adults.
During a tonsillectomy, you will be put under general anesthesia, which comes with its own set of side effects. The risks range from mild vomiting and nausea to fatal conditions such as malignant hyperthermia and respiratory failure. You need not worry about this if you have undergone general anesthesia in the past without a hitch. However, if you have a family history of pseudocholinesterase deficiency, malignant hyperthermia, sudden death or muscular dystrophy, you should inform your surgeon before the procedure. If you suffer from sleep apnea or asthma, you are likely to experience respiratory problems after being put under general anesthesia. Despite the risks involved, anesthesia is considered fairly safe as mortality rates are estimated to be less than 0.001%.
While bleeding is normal in any surgical procedure, tonsillectomies present a special concern due to the proximity of the tonsils to major blood vessels. It is very unlikely for bleeding to occur after the operation. If you experience post-operative bleeding, it can only occur in two occasions: 24 hours after surgery or 6-10 days after surgery. Diseases such as anemia or hemophilia can increase your chances of bleeding after a tonsillectomy.
A tonsillectomy, like any other surgical procedure, comes with the risk of infection. While it is rare and can be treated with antibiotics, it’s important to look out for the signs and report to your doctor immediately. The symptoms include:
Ear pain that doesn’t go away
Coughing, abnormally colored mucus, difficulty breathing and other signs of a respiratory infection
Generally, the benefits of tonsillectomy far outweigh the risks. However, there are a myriad of complications you need to be aware of other than the 4 discussed above. You may be experiencing burns during surgical cautery, teeth damage during intubation, blockage of the upper airway from excessive scar tissue, allergic reactions to pre and post-surgery medication, and accidental inhalation of stomach contents with under anesthesia. Due to the diversity in the way people respond to surgery, there is a possibility of experiencing a complication that hasn’t been documented.
When Should You Consider Tonsillectomy?
Whenever you have problems with your tonsils, surgery should not be the first course of action. You need to discuss with your doctor about other available treatment options first. In some cases, however, the surgical procedure is highly necessary. A tonsillectomy can be done for the following reasons:
Recurrent tonsillitis episodes
Persistent strep throat
You have an abscess in the tonsils that doesn’t respond to drainage
Persistent taste or odor in the mouth that doesn’t respond to treatment
Detection of a tumor in the tonsils
Tonsils that cause sleep apnea