How Long Does it Take to Remove Tonsils?

Written by leslie wilson
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How Long Does it Take to Remove Tonsils?
When tonsils become infected, they need to come out. (Image by, courtesy of The U.S. Army)

Tonsils, oval-shaped masses on both sides of the back of the throat, protect us by capturing bacteria and viruses that invade our bodies through our mouth or nose and creating antibodies to destroy them. Sometimes, the tonsils can become severely or chronically infected. When they begin causing more harm than good, doctors will consider removing them. While the surgery itself is usually quick, time at the hospital and required for recovery depends upon a number of factors.


Tonsillitis occurs when the tonsils become infected. The Mayo Clinic states that symptoms of tonsillitis may include swollen, inflamed tonsils; white patches on the tonsils; a sore throat; difficulty swallowing; fever; headache; swollen and tender lymph nodes; laryngitis; and a stomach ache. Most often, tonsillitis is caused by a viral infection and is treated with over-the-counter pain relievers. Sometimes it can result from a bacterial infection and is thus treated with antibiotics.

Strep Throat

When a throat culture identifies group A streptococci as the cause of tonsillitis, the diagnosis is strep throat. The primary symptoms of strep throat, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), are an extremely sore throat; fever above 38.9 degrees Celsius; swollen glands along the neck; and pus on the tonsils. (The AAP notes that it is possible to have strep throat without the tonsils being affected.) Strep throat requires antibiotics; untreated strep throat can lead to health complications, including kidney inflammation and rheumatic fever.

When Surgery is Recommended

The AAP writes that the removal of tonsils (a tonsillectomy) and an adenoidectomy for the removal of adenoids are the most common major operation performed on children. Both the AAP and the Mayo Clinic state that a tonsillectomy is recommended if blockage from swollen tonsils is severe enough to interfere with swallowing or breathing; the lymph nodes remain chronically enlarged or tender; the patient has had at least seven serious throat infections in one year; at least five every year for two years; or at least three a year for three years.

Length of Time at Surgical Facility

Patients typically arrive at their surgical facility or hospital two hours before the procedure for admittance and pre-surgical testing (such as blood work and having vital information taken). The patient is then placed under general anaesthesia for the duration of the surgery---approximately 20 minutes. Afterward, he'll be taken to a recovery area where nurses will monitor him until he awakens; according to the Children's Medical Center of Dayton, Ohio, this can take up to one hour. The patient will then go to another room where his parents or caregivers can stay with him until he is ready for discharge; this usually takes an additional two or more hours. Patients younger than 3 years old and any patient with a chronic disease, will typically need to stay at the hospital overnight for observation.

At-Home Recovery Time

Medline Plus, a website provided by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, states that the full recovery time from a tonsillectomy is one to two weeks. During that time, a Aug. 4, 2009 article posted in the U.S. News & World Report website, "Health Tip: Recovering from a Tonsillectomy," advises patients to drink lots of fluids; eat soft foods; avoid hard or crunchy foods and avoid acidic foods like oranges, grapefruit or tomato-based foods.

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