Is Tonsil Surgery a Good Plan for Adults?

Close up of young woman rubbing her inflamed tonsils, tonsilitis problem

Many adults are shocked when their ENT proposes a tonsillectomy. They ask, isn’t that something for children? Or, is there an age restriction for tonsil removal in adults? Well actually, there’s no true age limit on a tonsillectomy. Your provider will look at the condition of your tonsils and your particular symptoms rather than how old you are.

There may be some drawbacks to tonsil surgery just like with any other surgical procedure. Because of this, you should have a thorough discussion with your ENT about what the tonsil surgery will be like.

What is a tonsillectomy?

Tonsillectomy is a surgery in which the tonsils are removed. That most likely sounds pretty obvious. But that’s not the end of the story. Your tonsils are two lymph nodes at the back of your throat. Now, you have lymph nodes in your entire body, but these ones are special.

Lymph nodes are there to shield you from infection and illness and that goes for your tonsils as well. Your tonsils may become swollen as they intercept germs (that’s why your doctor feels around in your throat and neck, because you can sometimes identify this inflammation with your other lymph nodes).

During a tonsillectomy, these two specific lymph nodes are carefully extracted.

When is a tonsillectomy conducted in adults?

Tonsillectomy surgery isn’t done as often as it used to be for a number of reasons (they’re actually pretty common still, with around 500,000 procedures being performed every year.).

In adults, there are several signs you need to have your tonsils extracted, including the following:

  • Your tonsils are damaged: Your tonsils can get sores on them or an abscess or possibly another source of damage which can cause discomfort and might also be a health concern. Your ENT might advocate for having your tonsils removed in situations like these.
  • You have sleep apnea: Your tonsils can occasionally cause breathing problems, typically in the form of sleep apnea. When you have sleep apnea, your airway becomes impeded while you sleep (normally, this causes restless nights and snoring, but it can sometimes lead to death). Removing the tonsils can help open up the airway, helping you sleep better at the same time.
  • Your tonsils are asymmetrical: Your lymph nodes, including your tonsils, should all be around the same size. So it’s most likely a sign that you need to get some treatment if one of your tonsils grows bigger than the other (it could also indicate a more serious medical problem). Your doctor might suggest the extraction of one or more of your tonsils if one grows bigger than the other.
  • Chronic infections: Your tonsils are meant to help you filter out germs before they can trigger an infection or disease. But sometimes, your tonsils will actually trigger an infection by doing their job too well. Completely extracting the tonsils is frequently the best way to address these chronic infections.

The upsides and the downsides of a tonsillectomy

In terms of a tonsillectomy, as with any surgical procedure, there are upsides and downsides. Depending on why your tonsils need to be extracted, the pros and cons will vary.

But there are some drawbacks to surgery. So what are the negative aspects of tonsillectomy in adults? Here are a few of the most common:

  • Discomfort: In adults, is tonsil surgery really painful? Well, this surgery does have a reputation for having a painful recovery period. There’s even some evidence to indicate that adults tend to feel more pain and discomfort from tonsillectomy than kids do (precisely why this is, isn’t well established).
  • Recovery: It might take some time to recuperate from your tonsillectomy. The discomfort will last longer than a day even though the surgery will normally be performed on an outpatient basis. You can normally expect a 10-14 day recovery period after a tonsillectomy surgery.
  • Complications: Any surgery has a risk of complications, and that’s definitely true when it comes to tonsillectomy. Be certain to talk to your provider about what those complications might be.

Should you get a tonsillectomy?

So, is it worth removing tonsils in adults? Each case needs to be taken on an individual basis. It depends on your general health, your symptoms, and what your provider thinks you should do.

Getting a tonsillectomy will have positive results for many people and will improve their lives. Give us a call for an appointment if you are dealing with sleep apnea, have chronic soar throats, or are worried about the health of your tonsils.


The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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