Better Me

Should I Have My Tonsils Taken Out?

Are you suffering from recurring symptoms of tonsillitis or having difficulty swallowing or breathing? You may need those little things in the back of your throat removed. Most days you probably don’t give your tonsils much thought, but those things hanging out in the back of your throat are an important part in the health of your body. When they continuously get infected, they can become a big nuisance.

Although tonsillectomies are more common among children, some adults may benefit from the procedure too. In a recent conversation with Bruce Stewart, MD, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, he shared signs that you may need suregery to remove your tonsils.

Signs you may need surgery

1. Recurrent strep throat

“The biggest reason for adult tonsillectomies is recurrent strep throat that causes other problems, such as sleep apnea,” Dr. Stewart said. “It can vary among doctors, but I recommend surgery to my patients when they’ve had three or more infections in one year.”

2. Enlarged tonsils

Removing swollen tonsils has been found to be very effective in treating sleep apnea, however, your doctor may try less invasive treatments before exploring surgery.

3. Tonsil stones

It sounds a little gross, but sometimes debris, such as food, dead cells and other substances, can become trapped on the tonsils, creating tonsil stones. There are less invasive treatments, but the only way to permanently prevent them is with tonsillectomy.

4. Cancer of the tonsils

Whether you have your tonsils or not, you could develop tonsil cancer. About 70 percent of cancers in the oropharynx (tonsils, soft palate and base of tongue) are linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted virus. If you still have them, your doctors will remove as part of your cancer treatment.

Are there any risks?

Tonsillectomies are performed under general anesthesia, and although rare, there are some small risks, including possible bleeding, infection and a reaction to the anesthesia itself. Many patients experience nausea and vomiting, sore throat, low grade fever, bad breath, earaches and fatigue.

Dr. Stewart shared that some patients experience quite a bit of post-op pain, but it usually fades during the second week. That’s why he recommends taking your pain medication as prescribed and to stay hydrated.

“The procedure is no different for adults than for children, it’s just that adults take longer to heal,” he says. “As long as you keep on schedule with your pain meds, rest and stay hydrated the pain is manageable.”

When to seek medical attention

Life-threatening complications are rare, but Dr. Stewart said if you have bright red blood coming from your tonsil beds, a fever greater than 101, severe or persistent ear pain or symptoms of an upper respiratory infection, let your doctor know and seek immediate medical attention.

If you are concerned about you or your loved one, visit to find an ear, nose and throat specialist in your area.

For additional information, check out these related articles:

Ear, Nose and Throat Outpatient Surgery