Tonsillectomy – When Is It Necessary?

TonsillectomyA part of the body’s immune system, the tonsils are two oval-shaped pads of tissue located at the back of the throat on either side of the tongue. These small, filter-like glands are believed to serve as a first line of defense against germs and bacteria that enter the body through the mouth. This function can make the tonsils highly susceptible to infection, particularly in young children whose immune systems are not fully developed.

Years ago, tonsillectomy procedures were routinely performed to treat recurrent sore throats caused by inflamed and infected tonsils. At the time, it was widely accepted that the tonsils served minimal useful purpose, so if they were prone to infection they were often removed. The operation is fairly straightforward and has a relatively low risk of serious complications. For these reasons, during the 50s, 60s, and 70s, it was very common for schoolchildren to have their tonsils taken out.

The results of recent studies have cast doubt on the effectiveness of tonsillectomy as a way to minimize sore throat episodes. In fact, a common cause of tonsillitis is a virus, which will usually resolve on its own within a week. During that time, any associated discomfort can often be addressed effectively with over-the-counter remedies. As a result, many experts now believe that the majority of the tonsillectomies that were performed years ago were unnecessary, and the procedure is being performed much less frequently today.

Nevertheless, because tonsillitis can be caused by conditions other than a virus, such as a bacterial infection that requires antibiotic treatment, it is important to consult with a physician when tonsillitis symptoms develop. The most common signs include:

  • A sore throat
  • Red, swollen tonsils
  • Yellow or white patches on the surfaces of the tonsils
  • Fever
  • Tender, enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
  • Swallowing difficulties

In accordance with current guidelines, a tonsillectomy might still be recommended to address:

  • Recurrent, chronic, or severe tonsillitis (more than five episodes per year)
  • Swallowing or breathing difficulties, including sleep apnea, caused by enlarged tonsils
  • Rare diseases of the tonsils, such as cancer

If you would like to consult with a doctor about a sore throat, tonsillitis symptoms, or for any other reason, please feel free to contact or visit South Tampa Immediate Care. No appointments are ever necessary at our walk-in clinic, where you will be seen by a well-qualified doctor who has many years of experience in identifying and treating many common health conditions.