Using this guide What's covered
Here you’ll find the answers to many of your questions about tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy (removal of the tonsils and adenoids). Learn how the surgery works, what it may cost, what your recovery may be like and more.
To see how the surgery is done, view our animation below. For personal insights, see our patient experience videos in which HCF members talk frankly about their preparation, surgery and recovery.
What are tonsils?
‘Tonsils’ are lymphoid tissue which, among other things, helps identify foreign material such as viruses and bacteria and presents them to the immune system so the body can mount a good defence. They’re part of a ring of lymphoid tissue around the entrance to your upper airway, including the palatine tonsils (two almond-shaped lumps at the back of your mouth on either side of your throat), lingual tonsils (at the base of your tongue) and adenoids (at the back of your nose behind your palate). You have lots of lymphoid tissue throughout your upper airway and gut.
Why are they removed?
Tonsils are not always helpful. Sometimes bacteria can overwhelm them and form little communities called biofilms. This allows the bacteria to escape antibiotics and other treatments. When you are run down and your immune system is low or you have a virus, the bacteria in these communities flare up and cause infections known as tonsillitis. This may result in pain, fever, enlarged tonsils, pus on the tonsils and swelling in the neck which may take many days to settle down and often requires an antibiotic. Although this is more common in children, it can happen at any age.
If the infections become frequent or chronic, your doctor might suggest a tonsillectomy. There are other areas in the body made of this special tissue, so if your tonsils are removed your body is still able to fight infection.
Medication can’t prevent tonsillitis but antibiotics can help to treat it if it’s caused by bacteria (although the prolonged use of antibiotics can lessen their effectiveness). The only way to prevent the recurrence of tonsillitis is to surgically remove the tonsils.
There are a few other reasons for tonsillectomy, which include:
- recurrent peritonsillar abscess (abscess behind the tonsil)
- very large tonsils that cause snoring and, in some cases, sleep apnoea (obstructed breathing during sleep)
- tonsil stones (tonsillitis)
- in rare circumstances, a tumour or growth on the tonsils.
Tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy
Your adenoids are also part of this ring of lymphoid tissue and fill the space at the back of the nose, above your palate.
If they become enlarged, they can block your nose, obstruct your ears and, like tonsils, become infected. Your surgeon may choose to remove them as well. This procedure is called an adenoidectomy. Removal of both tonsils and adenoids is called an adenotonsillectomy or tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy (T&A).
Around 48,000 tonsillectomies and/or adenoidectomies are performed in Australia every year. The median waiting time at a public hospital is about 102 days. At a private hospital you won’t have to wait in a queue.
Treatments to consider before opting for surgery
Non-surgical options that may delay the need for tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy.
Results vs risks of surgery
The benefits and potential complications of tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy.
Choosing a specialist
How to find a surgeon who specialises in this procedure.
Questions for the surgeon and anaesthetist
What you should be asking before going ahead with surgery.
Preparing for surgery
Pre-operative tests and advice on preparing a child for the procedure.
Your anaesthetic options
The type of anaesthetic and pain relief you may be offered.
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