Your tonsils are two glands which sit at the back of the throat and during childhood help us to fight infection. As we get older the role of the tonsils decreases and in most cases they shrink. Comparatively common in children but less so in adults is tonsillitis, a painful infection of the tonsils.
Tonsillitis can be caused by a viral infection such as the common cold or flu (and this is the most frequent cause) or by a bacterial infection which can cause complications.
In most cases tonsillitis gets better after a week with painkillers, plenty of fluids and rest. Where it is caused by a bacterial infection antibiotics prescribed by your GP will also aid recovery.
However, some people suffer from chronic tonsillitis which is where the condition lasts for longer, and/or keeps coming back. In these cases surgery may be necessary where at least three out of the following criteria are met:
Removal of the tonsils is called a tonsillectomy and is carried out under general anaesthetic. The main methods include:
Surgery takes between 30 minutes and one hour.
You will usually go home on the same day as your surgery, but may have to spend a night in hospital depending on the time of day you had your surgery and your reaction to the general anaesthetic. If you are in and out in one day you will be advised to have someone who can get you to and from hospital – you will not be able to drive until the general anaesthetic has fully worn off.
With the tonsils removed there will be no further instances of tonsillitis. You are likely to experience pain for a week or two after a tonsillectomy and this can be managed with painkillers.
Swallowing can be difficult after surgery but you are encouraged to eat and drink because this aids recovery. Cold water will not only keep you hydrated but also helps to relieve pain by contracting the blood vessels. Avoid fizzy or acidic drinks (they will sting) and do not drink alcohol – this widens the blood vessels and can result in bleeding.
Regular tooth brushing and using a mouthwash will help prevent infection.
Tonsillectomy is a comparatively risk-free procedure. Some people experience ear ache after the operation but this is common and not a cause for concern.
Bleeding is common where the tonsils have been removed for anything up to 10 days after surgery and 1 in 30 adults will experience some bleeding after their operation. Minor bleeding usually clears up by itself and can be helped by gargling with cold water.
If bleeding is severe or if you are coughing up blood, you should seek medical attention immediately. Use the emergency contact number we have given you or call 111.
A pre-operative assessment is our opportunity to ensure that the procedure for which you have been referred is right for you. We’ll explain your treatment to you and make sure that you are well enough to go ahead with it. It is also your opportunity to meet the team who will care for you and to ask any questions.
We carry out all the necessary tests and examinations in one outpatient session. While this may take several hours, everything is done in one go to save frequent visits before surgery.
Where a tonsillectomy is not available on the NHS, or where the number of NHS procedures available has been reduced and has resulted in a longer waiting time, you can choose to pay for your treatment yourself via our self-pay option.
Self-pay is available if you find you are not eligible for NHS-funded care and do not have private medical insurance.
You will need an open referral letter from your GP (we can help you with this). Because we don’t include all of the costly extras you may associate with private hospital treatment, paying for yourself could cost you considerably less than you might imagine too. There are also financing options available, to help you spread the cost.
Mike, April 2017
Orthopaedic patient, May 2017
Patient, May 2017