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Factsheet - Tonsillectomy


Disclaimer: This fact sheet is for education purposes only. Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for your child.

What are tonsils and adenoids?

The tonsils are pieces of (usually) almond sized tissue on each side at the back of the throat which you may be able to see when you look in your child's mouth. The adenoids are made of similar tissue but they are at the back of the nose and you can't see them when you look in the mouth. Both the tonsils and adenoids help to protect the body from germs. There are parts of a lot of organs in the body that protect us from germs, so your child will still be well protected without their tonsils and adenoids.

Why should they be removed?

Tonsillectomy (removal of the tonsils) and adenoidectomy (removal of the adenoids) are two different operations which are often required at the same time because the tonsils and adenoids are often affected by the same conditions.

There are a number of reasons why your child may need to have their tonsils (and possibly adenoids) removed they include:

  • Difficulty in breathing and sleeping usually at night if the tonsils or adenoids are enlarged
  • Difficulty in swallowing if the tonsils are enlarged
  • Frequent infections of the tonsils
  • An abscess on one or both of the tonsils

What happens during the operation?

Your child will come into hospital the day they are having their operation. It is important that they don't have anything to eat or drink for some time before the operation. You will be advised from what time they need to be 'nil by mouth'. Your child should also not have any ibuprofen (Nurofen) or aspirin medicines for 2 weeks before the operation, as these medicines may increase the chance of bleeding.

Before the operation starts your child will be given an anaesthetic to put them into a deep sleep. It will keep them from feeling pain during the operation.

The doctor will use a device to keep the mouth open so that they can see the tonsils, this will be removed at the end of the surgery. The doctor will then remove the tonsils and possibly adenoids from the surrounding tissue. The doctor may use various methods to stop bleeding.

What to expect in the ward after the operation?

Some children go home on the same day of the operation and some children stay in hospital overnight. If your child is going home the same day, you will remain in the day surgery ward after your child's operation. If your child is staying in hospital overnight, you will be taken to a ward after recovery, so please come prepared if you would like to stay with them.

Your child may be a little sleepy when they first wake up because of the anaesthetic they were given during the operation to keep them asleep. They may also feel a bit sick for the first day.

When they wake up they will be given a drink, they can eat and drink whatever they can tolerate, although they may not want to eat and drink citrus things like orange juice because it may cause some discomfort for them. It is very important that your child drinks enough fluid before they can go home.

The nurses will check your child often during your stay. They will check their temperature, pulse and breathing.

It is very important that your child takes their pain medicine while in hospital to help reduce the pain in their throat. If you stay in hospital overnight your child will be woken during the night for pain medicine so they don't wake with a sore throat in the morning. It will be easier for them to eat and drink if they don't have a sore throat.

Your child may have ear pain after the surgery. This is common and may stay for a few days. It doesn't mean they have an ear infection; it is called referred pain and is associated with the sore throat. The pain medicine will help this pain as well.

How long will my child stay in hospital?

For Day Surgery patients, you will need to stay for 4-6 hours after the surgery. If your child needs to stay in hospital overnight, you should expect to go home early the next day. The doctors or nurses will let you know when you can go home, and talk to you about what you need to know when you go home. You will also be given information on follow up for your child at this time.

What do I need to know when my child goes home?

It is important that you continue with the pain medicine regularly for the first few days. Don't wait until your child says they have pain or they may not want to take their medicine and then won't want to eat and drink.

Your child should only take paracetamol for pain when they go home; and remember they should not take ibuprofen (Nurofen) or aspirin medicines as they may increase the chance of bleeding.

You should keep your child as quiet as possible for the first 2 weeks and they should not go back to school or preschool for that time.

When should I call the Doctor or Hospital?

You should call the hospital if your child has any bleeding and the doctor may advise you to bring your child back to hospital. This bleeding can happen up to 2 weeks after the surgery. The bleeding may be from the nose or coughed up from the throat. It can also be vomited in which case it is often dark coloured.

A small temperature is normal after surgery but if your child has a high temperature for a few hours call the hospital.

If your child is unable to eat and drink then you should contact the hospital.


  • Your child will have a sore throat so they need to continue to take their pain medicine when they go home
  • It is important that your child eats and drinks a satisfactory amount when they are at home
  • Call the hospital if your child has any bleeding.
Kids Health (CHW) Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick Kaleidoscope, Hunter Children's Health Network
The Children's Hospital at Westmead
Tel: (02) 9845 3585
Fax: (02) 9845 3562
Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick
Tel: (02) 9382 1688
Fax: (02) 9382 1451
Kaleidoscope, Hunter Children's Health Network
Tel: (02) 4921 3670
Fax: (02) 4921 3599

© The Children's Hospital at Westmead, Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick
& Kaleidoscope, Hunter Children's Health Network - 2005-2009.

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