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If your tonsils get infected once in a while, you usually can ride it out. But if you or your child get a lot of infections or they lead to other problems such as sleep apnea, you and your doctor might decide to take the tonsils out.

Viruses or bacteria can cause tonsillitis. When you have it, you might get a sore throat and a fever. You may also notice your tonsils are red, swollen, and covered in a white or yellow coating.

After the surgery, you can’t get tonsillitis anymore. It can also help relieve sleeping problems and other issues caused by swollen tonsils. If you or your child need to have a doctor take them out, it helps to know how to get ready and what to expect.

Are There Risks for This Surgery?

Along with the benefits of surgery, there are also some risks.

For this kind of surgery, you’ll get what’s called general anesthesia, which makes you sleep through the operation so that you won’t feel any pain while it’s happening. Some people react to the drugs or gasses used for this. That’s why your doctor will ask you lots of questions about your medical history.

Other risks include:

  • Bleeding. It’s rare, but can happen and usually means you have to stay in the hospital longer. You may also have bleeding as you heal.
  • Swelling. In the first few hours after surgery, your tongue and the roof of your mouth may puff up, which makes breathing harder.
  • Infection. This is also rare, but it’s a small risk with most surgeries.

How Do I Get Ready?

Your doctor will want to know about any medicines or supplements you take. This includes over-the-counter medications, such as aspirin, as well as herbs and vitamins.

Your doctor may tell you to stop taking certain medicines. For example, 2 weeks before surgery, you won’t be able to take:

  • Aspirin or any medicines that have aspirin
  • Ginkgo biloba
  • St. John’s Wort

Your doctor will also ask about:

  • Reactions or allergies you have to medicines
  • Problems that you or your family members have had with drugs used for anesthesia
  • Bleeding problems that you or your family members have, such as issues with blood clotting

Starting at midnight the night before the surgery, you won’t be able to eat anything. You may be able to have some liquids, but check with your doctor to see what’s allowed.


How Can I Help My Child Get Ready?

If your child is having surgery, a few extra steps can go a long way to calm any concerns. You may want to:

  • Ask your child questions so he can talk about his feelings, and you can make sure he’s not confused about what’s going to happen.
  • Be very specific about how the surgery will help, telling him things such as “you won’t get sick as much or have as many sore throats.”
  • Remind him that you’ll be at the hospital the whole time.
  • Talk about going to the hospital — a good general rule is to talk 2 days ahead of time for a 2 year old, 3 days for a 3 year old, and so on.
  • Tell your child that the doctor is taking just his tonsils out, nothing else, and he won’t look any different.

What Happens During the Surgery?

First, you’ll get general anesthesia, so you won’t be awake during the operation.

To remove your tonsils, some doctors use a special knife called a scalpel. Other doctors prefer a tool that uses heat, sound waves (ultrasound), laser, or cold temperatures. They all work just as well, and your recovery time is the same with all of them.

The surgery typically takes 20 to 45 minutes.

After the surgery, you’ll spend 2 to 4 hours in a recovery room before going home. As you wake up, you might feel sick to your stomach or even throw up. That’s part of the anesthesia wearing off and is common.

Young children may spend the night in the hospital. You might also spend the night if there were problems during the surgery or you have other health problems.

What Can I Expect at Home?

It usually takes 10 to 14 days to heal. For adults, it might take a little longer.

What to do for pain: The most common issue after surgery is pain. Almost everyone gets a sore throat. You may also hurt in your ear, neck, or jaw. Your doctor will let you know what medicines you can take for relief.


What to eat and drink: One of the most important things you or your child can do for healing is to drink plenty of fluids. It can be hard with a sore throat, so you might want to start with water and popsicles.

As far as eating, start with plain foods that are easy to swallow, such as applesauce. You can move on to ice cream and pudding as you work your way back to a normal diet.

Physical activity: You need lots of rest even after minor surgery. Children and adults should delay any hard exercise, such as running, for 2 weeks.

Generally, you’re ready to get back to your typical routine when you can eat and drink as usual, sleep through the night, and don’t need medicine for pain.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Symptoms such as pain, snoring, and fever under 102 F are normal after surgery. But call your doctor if you notice these things:

  • You feel weak, dizzy, lightheaded, or have a headache. This could mean you haven’t had enough fluids. For your child: If’s he’s peeing only 2 to 3 times a day and crying without tears, that usually means he hasn’t had enough to drink.
  • You have a fever 102 F or higher.
  • You throw up or still feel sick to your stomach more than 12 hours after surgery

Go to the emergency room if you have:

  • A hard time breathing
  • Any bleeding (small bits of dark blood in your nose or spit are normal, but bright red blood means you need to be seen by a doctor.)
Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on November 26, 2018



Mayo Clinic: “Ear tubes,” “Tonsillectomy,” “Tonsillitis.”

Piedmont Healthcare: “When should your tonsils be removed?”

Cincinnati Children’s: “Tonsillectomy.”

American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery: “Tonsils and Adenoids.”

St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital: “Preparing Your Child for Surgery.”

KidsHealth: “Having Your Tonsils Taken Out.”

National Health Service: “Tonsillitis — Treatment.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Tonsillectomy Overview.”

University of Missouri Health Care, ENT and Allergy Center: “Tonsillectomy.”