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Tonsillectomy – or the removal of tonsils – doesn’t just treat throat infection; it also helps to relieve conditions such as obstructive sleep apnoea.     

Often hear of someone you know having trouble with their tonsils? These two clumps of tissue are situated at the back of the upper throat, and prevent foreign bodies such as bacteria and viruses from entering the nose or mouth (and cause infection). Understandably, the tonsils have been described as “the first line of defence’ in our immune system.   

Tonsillitis occurs when an infection develops in our tonsils

Tonsillitis can show up in the following symptoms: 

  • sore throat 
  • difficulty with swallowing
  • scratchy-sounding voice 
  • bad breath 
  • cough 
  • headache 
  • fever
  • fatigue 
  • tonsils that appear red and swollen, and/or with white or yellow spots  

The treatment for tonsillitis depends on the cause and severity of the condition. A throat swab can be performed by your doctor to check for streptococcal bacteria, or a complete blood cell count to determine the cause of the infection. The results of your test(s) will help your doctor assess the appropriate treatment.

Tonsillitis is common among children aged between 5 and 15 years. It is less frequent in adults as the tonsils are reduced in size and immune system function. But the condition can affect people of any age. If you have had recurrent tonsillitis or strep throat – 7 or more episodes in the past year – consult an ENT specialist about tonsillectomy. 

A tonsillectomy treats myriad problems, ranging from chronic tonsillitis to cancer

Research shows that women are twice as likely as men to get the tonsils surgically removed, or an tonsillectomy. Tonsillectomy is recommended as a solution to:

  • breathing problems due to swollen tonsils
  • frequent and loud snoring
  • obstructive sleep apnoea
  • bleeding in the tonsils
  • cancer of the tonsils

A tonsillectomy can offer several benefits, such as better sleep quality, fewer infections, and greater quality of life. 

How is a tonsillectomy performed?

Depending on the method used, a tonsillectomy can be either extracapsular (also known as total tonsillectomy) or intracapsular (partial tonsillectomy or tonsillotomy). 

Both approaches address obstructive sleep apnoea in children, while only extracapsular can be used for tonsillitis.

Among the extracapsular methods is the “cold” knife procedure. This is where both the tonsil and the capsule are removed from the surrounding tissue using a knife, scissors or dissector, while the inferior pole is severed with a tonsil snare. After dissection, hemostasis is achieved with ligatures or diathermy; the latter represents the use of an electric current for the coagulation of blood vessels or for cutting the tissue.

Another common method for tonsillectomy involves burning away the tissues through a process called cauterisation. Other procedures use ultrasonic vibration (using soundwaves). 

A tonsillectomy usually lasts about 30 mins. Any method your doctor chooses requires a general anaesthetic, hence you will not experience any pain. Most people can return home the same day after the procedure.

Having a tonsillectomy does not reduce your immunity

Yes, studies have shown so. Some researchers even purpose the opposite, that having a tonsillectomy can strengthen your immune response. Unfortunately, it does not prevent your throat from becoming infected and sore.