A tonsillectomy is used to treat:
- Recurring, chronic or severe tonsillitis
- Complications of enlarged tonsils
- Bleeding of the tonsils
- Other rare diseases of the tonsils
Tonsils produce certain types of disease-fighting white blood cells. Therefore, the tonsils are believed to act as the immune system's first line of defense against bacteria and viruses that enter your mouth.
This function may make them particularly vulnerable to infection and inflammation. The problem is more common in children because the immune system function of tonsils is most active before puberty. Also, unlike an adult's immune system, a child's system has had less exposure to bacteria and viruses and has yet to develop immunities to them.
A tonsillectomy may be recommended to prevent frequent, recurring episodes of tonsillitis. Frequent is generally defined as:
- More than seven episodes a year
- More than five episodes a year in each of the preceding two years
- More than three episodes a year in each of the preceding three years
The procedure may also be recommended if:
- A bacterial infection causing tonsillitis doesn't improve with antibiotic treatment
- An infection that results in a collection of pus behind a tonsil (tonsillar abscess) doesn't improve with drug treatment or a drainage procedure
Complications of enlarged tonsils
Tonsils may become enlarged after frequent or persistent infections, or they may be naturally large. A tonsillectomy may be used to treat the following problems caused or complicated by enlarged tonsils:
- Difficulty breathing
- Disrupted breathing during sleep
- Difficulty swallowing
Other diseases of the tonsils
A tonsillectomy may also be used to treat other rare diseases or conditions of the tonsils, such as:
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- Cancerous tissue in one or both tonsils
- Recurrent bleeding from blood vessels near the surface of the tonsils
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- Fact sheet: Tonsillitis. American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. http://www.entnet.org/?q=node/1447. Accessed June 1, 2015.
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- Messner AH. Tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy in children: Preoperative and intraoperative care. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 1, 2015.
- Paradise. Tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy in children: Indications and contraindications. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 1, 2015.
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- Hoecker JL (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. June 1, 2015.