What is tonsillectomy, under age 12?

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Tonsillectomy in children: Overview

A tonsillectomy is surgery to remove the tonsils. Sometimes the adenoids are removed at the same time. Your doctor will do the surgery through your child's mouth. After the surgery, your child may not have a sore throat as often. If your child had trouble breathing at night, those breathing problems may improve.

Your child will be fine without tonsils and will not look different. You won't be able to see any scars from the surgery.

Children can usually go home 2 to 4 hours after the surgery. They usually have a sore throat and ear pain for up to 2 weeks after surgery. Your child will probably be able to go back to school or day care in 1 week and to full activity in 2 weeks.

How can you care for your child after a tonsillectomy?


  • Your child may want to spend the first few days in bed. When your child is ready, they can begin playing again. Encourage quiet indoor play for the first 3 to 5 days.
  • Your child will probably be able to go back to school or day care in 7 to 10 days. Your child should not go to gym or PE class for about 2 weeks or until your doctor says it is okay.
  • For about 2 weeks, do not let your child play hard. Take care that your child doesn't do anything to turn upside down, such as playing on monkey bars or doing somersaults. Also avoid sports, bike riding, or running until your doctor says it is okay.
  • For about 7 days, keep your child away from crowds or people that you know have a cold or the flu. This can help prevent your child from getting an infection.
  • You and your child should stay close to medical care for about 2 weeks in case there is delayed bleeding.
  • Your child may bathe as usual.


  • Have your child drink plenty of fluids for the first 24 hours to avoid becoming dehydrated. Use clear fluids, such as water, apple juice, and flavored ice pops. Avoid hot drinks, soda pop, and citrus juices, such as orange juice. These may cause more pain.
  • When your child is ready to eat, start with easy-to-swallow foods. These include soft noodles, pudding, and dairy foods such as yogurt and ice cream. Dairy foods may cause the saliva to thicken, making it hard to swallow. Try them in small amounts. Canned or cooked fruit, scrambled eggs, and mashed potatoes are other good choices.
  • You may notice a change in your child's bowel habits right after surgery. This is common. If your child has not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, call your doctor.


  • Your doctor will tell you if and when your child can restart any medicines. The doctor will also give you instructions about your child taking any new medicines.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
    • Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • If you think the pain medicine is making your child sick to the stomach:
    • Give the medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, be sure your child takes them as directed. Your child should not stop taking them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.

How do you prepare for your child's tonsillectomy?

Surgery can be stressful for both your child and you. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your child's surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Talk to your child about the surgery. Tell your child that the surgery may keep him or her from getting sick so often. Hospitals know how to take care of children. The staff will do all they can to make it easier for your child.
  • Ask if a special tour of the surgery area and hospital is available. This may make your child feel less nervous about what happens.
  • Plan for your child's recovery time. Your child may need more of your time right after the surgery, both for care and for comfort.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell the doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies your child takes. Some may increase the risk of problems during the surgery. Your doctor will tell you if your child should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.

The day before surgery

  • A nurse may call you (or you may need to call the hospital). This is to confirm the time and date of your child's surgery and answer any questions.
  • Remember to follow your doctor's instructions about your child taking or stopping medicines before surgery. This includes over-the-counter medicines.

After your child's tonsillectomy: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child has trouble breathing.
  • Your child has a lot of bleeding.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • Your child is bleeding.
  • Your child is too sick to his or her stomach to drink any fluids.
  • Your child cannot keep down fluids.
  • Your child has new pain, or the pain gets worse.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Your Child's Tonsillectomy: Returning Home

Why is a tonsillectomy done in children?

Tonsillectomy is surgery to remove the tonsils. It's generally used for children who have repeated infections, especially when they interfere with daily life. It may also be done to treat snoring and sleep apnea caused by large tonsils. But it should only be done after you and your doctor carefully think about your child's medical history and overall health.

Tonsillectomy may also be done for problems such as a peritonsillar abscess or cancer.

What happens on the day of your child's tonsillectomy?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when your child should stop eating and drinking. If you don't, the surgery may be canceled. If the doctor told you to have your child take any medicines on the day of surgery, have your child take them with only a sip of water.
  • Have your child take a bath or shower before you come in. Do not apply lotion or deodorant.
  • Your child may brush their teeth. But tell your child not to swallow any toothpaste or water.
  • Do not let your child wear contact lenses. Bring your child's glasses or contact lens case.
  • Be sure your child has something that's a reminder of home. A special stuffed animal, toy, or blanket may be comforting. For an older child, it might be a book or music.

At the hospital or surgery center

  • A parent or legal guardian must accompany your child.
  • Your child will be kept comfortable and safe by the anesthesia provider. Your child will be asleep during the surgery.
  • The surgery usually takes less than 1 hour.
  • After surgery, your child will be taken to the recovery room. As your child wakes up, the recovery room staff will monitor your child's condition. The doctor will talk to you about the surgery.
  • You will probably be able to take your child home 2 to 4 hours after the surgery.

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