The tonsils, located at the back of the throat, are primarily responsible for assisting the body in fighting infection. However, this function makes these two lymph nodes very prone to becoming infected.
Tonsil infections are therefore quite common in children and to a lesser degree in adults. A tonsil infection is often referred to as tonsillitis, however you can also get other tonsil infections like tonsil stones.
Tonsil infections result in pain and inflammation of both the tonsils and the throat. The condition can also result in bad breath, difficulty swallowing and the formation of tonsil stones.
The infection can spread to the mouth, throat, sinuses, larynx, chest, Eustachian tubes, etc. It is very important to treat tonsillitis as soon as possible to prevent the spread of infection.
In most cases, the condition is treated with a course of antibiotics to eliminate the infection. An anti-inflammatory to reduce the swelling as well as a pain relieving medication may also be prescribed.
An antibacterial mouthwash or lozenges may also be recommended to help eliminate the infection, as well as home remedies like a salt water or apple cider vinegar gargle. The latter may be less effective but they are much easier to acquire possibly much cheaper (especially the salt water).
In cases where extreme infection occurs or where tonsillitis is a recurring problem, a more extreme approach may be recommended by a medical doctor. This normally means the surgical removal of tonsils through a procedure called a tonsillectomy.
The tonsils are generally regarded as not fulfilling an essential function and the removal is therefore often deemed of greater benefit to a patient that suffers from extreme or ongoing tonsil infections.
This said, tonsillectomies will not be recommended for acute, mild infections that occur less than once a year. In most cases, the procedure is only recommended after 7 significant occurrences of tonsillitis.
The procedure is performed under general anaesthetic which means that the patient is unconscious and only takes about an hour to complete. There are four methods that are commonly used to remove tonsils:
– Surgical which involves using a scalpel to cut the tonsils out.
– Cauterization which involves chemically burning the tonsil tissue away.
– Ultrasonic Vibration where sound waves are used to remove the tonsils.
– Laser tonsillectomy where lasers are used to reduce the size and remove the tonsils.
Of these, surgery is the most common and preferred method of tonsil removal, although laser removal is very effective and growing in popularity.
Precautions before Surgery
Like any surgical or medical procedure that is performed under general anaesthetic, there are certain risks involved with the procedure. It is important to understand and discuss these risks with the surgeon and ensure that they are aware of any sensitivity or reaction to anaesthetic in the past.
Ideally, a tonsillectomy will not be performed on tonsils that are infected or inflamed or immediately after infection. This is primarily to decrease the risk of extreme bleeding during the procedure. A course of treatment is therefore often prescribed to eliminate the infection before the procedure can be performed.
You will need to discontinue any medications that may have a blood thinning effect or are contraindicated for the anaesthetic a few days before the procedure. It is also recommended to inform your doctor of any supplements or other medications that are being taken.
If there are any blood clotting disorders that run through your family then you’ll need to make your doctor aware of this. It is also necessary to tell the surgeon, as well as the anaesthetist, of any respiratory or other health conditions that may be risk factors during the procedure.
This is normally a day procedure which means that the patient is released from hospital on the same day as the tonsillectomy is performed. However, if there are any complications, a patient may be kept overnight or longer to be monitored and receive any necessary treatment.