Is Tonsil Surgery a Good Idea for Adults?


Close up of young woman rubbing her inflamed tonsils, tonsilitis problem

Many adults are shocked when their ENT might recommend tonsillectomy. They ask, isn’t that something for kids? Or, is there an age limit for tonsil removal in adults? Well, much like ice cream and cartoons–there’s no true age limit on tonsillectomy. Rather than looking at your age, your provider will look for specific presentations and recurring symptoms which may then warrant the removal of your tonsils.

As with any surgical procedure, tonsil surgery may have some drawbacks. As a result, it’s a good idea to talk over your questions with your ENT–and thoroughly discuss what will happen during your tonsil surgery.

What is a tonsillectomy?

Tonsillectomy is a surgical procedure in which the tonsils are removed. That… sounds pretty straightforward, I suppose. But there’s more to it than that! Your tonsils are two lymph nodes at the back of your throat. Now, you have lymph nodes all over your body–but these ones are special.

As with other lymph nodes, your tonsils work to help protect you from illness and infection. As your tonsils intercept these germs, they may become inflamed (you can sometimes detect this with other lymph nodes, too–it’s why your doctor feels around your neck when you go in for a checkup).

During a tonsillectomy, these two particular lymph nodes are carefully removed.

When is a tonsillectomy performed in adults?

For a wide variety of reasons, tonsillectomy surgery is not quite as universal as it used to be (that said, something like 500,000 tonsillectomies are still performed every year–it’s quite a common procedure). In adults, there are several signs you need to have your tonsils removed, including the following:

  • Chronic infections: Your tonsils are designed to help you filter out germs before they can cause an infection or disease. But sometimes your tonsils are too good at their job–and they continually cause infections instead of preventing them. These chronic infections are often addressed by removing the tonsils entirely.
  • You have sleep apnea: Your tonsils can sometimes cause breathing problems–most commonly in the form of sleep apnea. When you have sleep apnea, your airway becomes obstructed while you sleep (usually this causes restless nights and snoring–but it can sometimes cause death). Removing the tonsils can help clear the airway, helping you sleep better in the process.
  • Your tonsils are asymmetrical: Your lymph nodes–including your tonsils–should all be roughly the same size. So when one tonsil grows larger than the others, this can be a sign that you may need treatment (in some cases, it’s a possible sign of cancer). As a result, if one tonsil is larger than the other, your provider may recommend having one or both tonsils removed.
  • Your tonsils are damaged: In some cases, damage such as an abscess or sore can be a source of discomfort–and a cause for concern in terms of your health. In these cases, your ENT may recommend having your tonsils removed.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of tonsillectomy

As with any surgical procedure, there are pluses and minuses when it comes to tonsillectomy. What those pros and cons look like will depend on the reason your tonsils are removed in the first place. (For example, you may be able to sleep easier or you may discover cancer early enough to effectively treat it–or both!)

But there are some drawbacks to surgery as well. So what are the disadvantages of tonsillectomy in adults? Among the most common are the following:

  • Discomfort: How painful is tonsil surgery in adults? Well, this procedure does have a reputation for causing discomfort. There’s even some evidence to suggest that adults tend to feel more pain and discomfort from tonsillectomy than children do (although the reasons for this are not well described).
  • Complications: Any surgery has a risk of complications–and that’s certainly true when it comes to tonsillectomy. Be sure to talk to your provider about what those complications may be.
  • Recovery: It may take some time to recover from your tonsillectomy. Even though the surgery will likely take place on an outpatient basis, that doesn’t mean the discomfort will recede in a day. Usually, tonsillectomy recovery will take 10-14 days.

Should you get a tonsillectomy?

So, is it worth removing tonsils in adults? Well, it depends (no surgical procedure is universally a good idea). It depends on your overall health, your symptoms, and what your provider thinks you should do. In the case of a tonsillectomy, your ENT will evaluate your overall health, the risks you may face, and make a recommendation.

In many cases, a tonsillectomy can represent a positive path forward and improve your overall wellness. If you’re having chronic sore throats, are suffering from sleep apnea, or are worried about your tonsil health, talk to your ENT about your tonsils today.

Find a provider near you today!

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