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Everyone has small glands on each side of the throat (tonsils) and at the top of the throat behind the nose (adenoids). A tonsillectomy (ton-sil-ek-toe-mee) is surgery to remove the tonsils, while an adenoidectomy (ad-uh-noid-ek-toe-mee) is surgery to remove the adenoids. A
tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy done together is also commonly referred to as a T&A.
A T&A may be done if a child has breathing or swallowing problems. Children who suffer from frequent episodes of tonsillitis (infection and inflammation of the tonsils) may also need a T&A. For children with sleep difficulties due to enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids, not having the
surgery may result in daytime sleepiness, behaviour problems or growth and development concerns.
You will be given instructions from your doctor or nurse on fasting before the surgery. It’s important to follow these directions.
Your child will have a general anaesthetic, which will put them to sleep before the surgery. The surgeon, anaesthetist (doctor who puts your child to sleep during the operation) and nurses will explain all the procedures to you before they begin. If you have any questions or anything is
unclear, ask staff to explain as many times as needed.
The surgeon removes the tonsils and adenoids through your child’s mouth. This means there are no incisions (cuts) needed on the outside of the skin.
T&A surgery usually takes about 30 minutes, but your child will be away from you for up to two hours. This time is used for preparing your child for surgery, and allows for transfer and recovery time.
When the surgery is over, you will be called to your child’s bedside, to be there when they wake up. Some children take longer than others to wake up, and they may cry, be confused, feel sick or vomit.
Most children will need to stay in hospital overnight, and one parent or caregiver can stay with them. Your child will be monitored overnight, and sent home when their doctor is happy that they are recovering well.
You will be given discharge care instructions when you leave the hospital. Follow these instructions carefully. They will cover information including:
It usually takes three weeks before healing is complete. Many children need two weeks home from child care, kindergarten or school.
Common questions our doctors are asked
Does the body need tonsils and adenoids? What happens if
they are removed?
The body does not actually need so much tonsil and adenoid tissue. This means that your child will be perfectly healthy without their tonsils and adenoids.
How many times should my child have had tonsillitis before they need to have them taken out?
When children start to have contact with other children or start a new school they may have exposure to new viruses, so they will have more infections than previously. They may have seven infections with tonsillitis in a year (especially in winter), but the next year they will have none or only one or two. This is the reason you will often be advised to wait until the next summer before making a decision about surgery.
What are the risks of T&A surgery?
All operations have some risks associated with them, such the risk of bleeding too much or getting an infection. Complications due to surgery are uncommon. Talk to your surgeon and anaesthetist about any concerns you have.
Developed by The Royal Children's Division of Surgery. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Developed August 2021.
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