Kids Health Info

Tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy (T&A)

  • 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.

    Why does my child need 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.

    What do I need to know?

    Before surgery

    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.

    During surgery

    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.

    After surgery

    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.

    Care at home

    You will be given discharge care instructions when you leave the hospital. Follow these instructions carefully. They will cover information including:

    • what your child can eat and drink
    • managing your child's nausea and vomiting
    • pain management
    • symptoms to look out for that will require medical advice
    • any follow-up appointments your child will need to have.

    It usually takes three weeks before healing is complete. Many children need two weeks home from child care, kindergarten or school.

    For more information

    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 June 2018.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au.

Kids Health Info app

The app will enable you to search and browse more than three hundred medical fact sheets and work offline.

Apple store Google play


Disclaimer
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.