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What Parents Need to Know About Tonsillectomies in Children

By HERWriter Blogger
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Ears, Nose & Throat related image Photo: Getty Images

Whenever a child has to have surgery, no matter how frequently the doctor performs it, how "minor" the procedure, or how many other people have had it done in the past, a parent will always be nervous and scared. And they should be, as things can go wrong.

However, being informed beforehand and knowing the risks and rewards of the procedure should help parents understand the surgery and feel a little more comfortable with it. Tonsillectomies often fall under the "minor" category, but this surgery is not done lightly and should be taken seriously.

A tonsillectomy is a surgical removal of the two tonsils, which are oval-shaped pads of tissue at the back of a person's throat. According to MayoClinic.com, this surgery used to be commonplace to treat infection and inflammation of the tonsils.

Today, it is more common to have the tonsils removed because of breathing and sleep issues as well as recurrent tonsillitis or strep infections that do not respond to treatment. The typical function of tonsils are to fight off infections.

In children, it is not unusual for tonsils to be enlarged. If the child has no accompanying symptoms, surgery is not typically required. However, if the child suffers from repeat bouts of tonsillitis, doctors may recommend a tonsillectomy. Signs of tonsillitis include:

• Red and swollen tonsils
• Sore throats
• Difficulty eating and swallowing
• Fever
• Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

Parents cannot diagnose tonsillitis. If they suspect their child may have this issue, the child should be seen by a medical professional as soon as possible. A throat culture may need to be performed to see if a strep infection of the throat is present.

If a child has frequent occurrences of tonsillitis or strep throat, or if swollen tonsils disrupt their sleeping, eating, or breathing, doctors may recommend having the tonsils removed, or a tonsillectomy. During this procedure, the child will be in an operating room under general anesthesia. The surgeon will take out the tonsils through the child’s mouth so there is no need to cut through the skin.

The surgery will only take about 20-30 minutes, but Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta tells parents to expect to be in the hospital around five hours. For their patients under three or those with chronic illnesses, they tend to keep them overnight for observation.

The recovery time can vary from a few days to a week, depending on the child and the surgical technique. The child may have a sore throat and have difficulty eating and drinking for a few days following the surgery.

The doctors of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta indicate that giving parents as much information as possible is helpful to them and often provides comfort in a frightening situation. On Thursday December 15, 2011 they will even do a live “tweet” of a tonsillectomy.

You can go to the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Twitter account,@ChildrensATL, or hashtag, #CHOASurgery, to experience the surgery “live” from anesthesia to recovery.

While this may seem extreme to some, to parents who have a child that will need to have this surgery, there is no such thing as information overload.


MayoClinic.com. Web. 14 December 2011. “Tonsillectomy”. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/tonsillectomy/MY00132

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Web. 14 December 2011. “Tonsils and Tonsillectomies”. http://www.choa.org/Child-Health-Glossary/T/TO/Tonsils-and-Tonsillectomies

Reviewed December 15, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.