Back to Living Better

When should your tonsils be removed?

There are two main reasons it may be time to undergo a tonsillectomy (removal of the tonsils):

  1. You have chronic sleep apnea or snoring that disrupts your sleep.
  2. You experience recurrent tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils) caused by strep throat or other infections.

Tonsillectomy may also be appropriate for individuals with other less common tonsil issues, such as abbesses or tumors.

Avani Patel Ingley, M.D., an ear, nose and throat specialist at Piedmont, says tonsillectomy is much more common in children under the age of 18 than in adults because children generally have weaker immune systems, making them more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections. For some, the tonsils harbor bacteria that foster chronic infection.

“The good news is, having your tonsils removed has proven to significantly reduce the rate of infection for chronic sufferers. And you don't need your tonsils, so there are no long-term consequences for having them removed,” Dr. Ingley says.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptoms of tonsillitis are a painful sore throat often accompanied by redness and puss on the tonsils. Other symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Swollen neck lymph nodes
  • Raw, bleeding spots on the tonsils
  • Difficulty/painful swallowing

What is considered chronic infection?

  • 7 infections in 1 year
  • 5 infections per year for 2 consecutive years
  • 3 infections per year for 3 consecutive years

The indications for tonsillectomy in adults are the same as in children, but tonsillitis is less common in the adult population because as children grow, their tonsils typically shrink and infection becomes less common.

How can enlarged tonsils be harmful?

Swollen tonsils and adenoids are a major cause of sleep apnea in children, a condition that causes abnormal pauses in breathing during sleep.

“Restless sleep or apnea due to enlarged tonsils can cause children to be hyperactive and fidgety during the day,” Dr. Ingley says. “Sleep apnea can also put a strain on the heart and lungs as well as disrupt hormones in children, which can lead to obesity.”

Dr. Ingley says removal of the tonsils for sleep apnea is more common in children ages 3 to 8, which often improves their sleep, behavior and quality of life. Adults with enlarged tonsils may feel sluggish and chronically tired due to interrupted sleep.

Can adults benefit from tonsillectomy?

Adults who suffer from chronic sore throats and related sleep apnea can benefit from tonsillectomy. However, the recovery can be longer compared to that of a child.

“There are always risks involved with any type of surgery,” Dr. Ingley notes. “The key is to weigh the risks with the health benefits. It is important for every patient to discuss their options with their physician.”

If you experience frequent sore throat, talk to your doctor. Click here to find a physician near you.

Related Stories