A doctor ponders tonsillectomies

Tonsillectomy Complications

A tonsillectomy is a surgical procedure that is performed to remove the tonsils, which are two oval-shaped pads of tissue located at the back of the throat. Tonsillectomies are usually used to treat breathing problems while sleeping, or tonsillitis, which is chronic infection and inflammation of the tonsils.

Tonsillectomies are usually done as outpatient procedures, meaning that you will be able to go home the day of the surgery. However, staying overnight at the hospital may be a possibility if any complications arise, or if the procedure is performed on a very young child. Here are some of the possible complications that could arise from this type of procedure.

Reaction to Anesthetics

Tonsillectomies are always performed under general anesthesia, which means that you will not be aware of the procedure or experience any pain at all. However, sometimes the medications that are used to put you under can cause problems after you wake up. Some common minor, short-term problems include headache, nausea, vomiting, and muscle soreness. It is rare to have any serious, long-term problems as a result of anesthesia, though it is a possibility. There is also a very small chance that anesthesia could cause death.


During the surgery, the surgeon will usually cut out the tonsils using a scalpel. Sometimes, specialized tools are used instead that use high energy heat or sound waves to remove or destroy the tissue. Though these methods are effective at removing the tonsils, they do cause a significant amount of stress on your mouth and throat. Because of this, it is common to experience swelling of the tongue and soft palate (roof of the mouth), especially during the first few hours after you wake up after the procedure. It is possible for this swelling to cause problems with breathing.


While the bleeding is supposed to be stopped as soon as the tonsils are removed, it is possible for severe bleeding to occur during surgery. If this happens, this will require a longer hospital stay and additional treatment after the procedure. It is also possible for bleeding to occur after the surgery if the scab from the wound becomes dislodged too soon during the healing process.


In very rare cases, a tonsillectomy could lead to an infection in the wound. This would require further treatment and usually a prolonged hospital stay as well. It is also possible for the tonsillectomy to fail to prevent future throat infections from occurring, which may mean that additional surgery is necessary.

Prolonged Pain

Usually, recovering from a tonsillectomy will take about ten days. However, it is possible for the healing process to be impaired for some reason, which could lead to excessive and prolonged pain among other things. If this occurs, you may need to be readmitted to the hospital.


It is possible to become dehydrated during the healing process. Signs of dehydration include reduced urination, excessive thirst, weakness, headache, dizziness, and lightheadedness. In children, signs of dehydration include crying with no tears and urinating less than two or three times per day. Call your doctor immediately if you or your child begin to experience any of these symptoms after having a tonsillectomy.

Last Updated: May 05, 2016