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Tonsillectomy Facts in the U.S.

  • More than 500,000 tonsillectomies are performed each year in the U.S.1
  • Two-thirds of tonsillectomies are performed on children while one-third are performed on adults2
  • In children, 80 percent of tonsillectomies are performed for obstructive sleep problems and 20 percent are performed for infection3
  • In adults, chronic infection is cited as the most common reason for tonsillectomy2
  • In children, the rate of tonsillectomy is almost twice as high in girls than in boys3
  1. Considering Tonsillectomy? Factor in Evidence, Clinical Judgment, Patient Preference, ENT Today, December 2009
  2. Chronic infection #1 reason for adult tonsillectomy, Reuters Health, September 24, 2008
  3. Tonsillectomy Facts in the U.S.: From ENT Doctors, American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery

Facts you should know

The tonsils are areas of tissue on either side of the throat that function as part of the body’s immune system. They detect bacteria and viruses that enter the body and work to fight off infection.

While the tonsils act as a line of defense for the body, they can become infected and inflamed, a condition called tonsillitis. This can cause difficulty in eating, swallowing and breathing, persistent throat pain and fever. Enlarged tonsils can also cause a condition known as sleep apnea, in which the tonsils block the airway during sleep, resulting in snoring and interrupted breathing.

In some cases, tonsillitis is temporary and the tonsils will heal on their own, but frequent or chronic tonsillitis may require surgical removal of the tonsils, a procedure referred to as tonsillectomy.

What are the symptoms of Tonsillitis?

  • Sore throat
  • Red, swollen tonsils
  • White or yellow patches or coating on the tonsils
  • Difficulty breathing, swallowing and/or talking
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Swollen lymph nodes (the glands in the jaw and neck)
  • Bad breath
  • Abdominal pain (particularly in children)

When is a tonsillectomy needed?

A tonsillectomy may be required when a patient:

  • Experiences frequent tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils)
  • Has chronic tonsillitis, consisting of persistent throat pain
  • Has multiple bouts of peritonsillar abscess, a complication of tonsillitis
  • Has sleep apnea (obstructing/stopping breathing at night due to enlarged tonsils)
  • Has difficulty eating or swallowing due to enlarged tonsils

An otolaryngologist, otherwise known as an Ear, Nose and Throat or ENT doctor, is a specialist in disorders of the ear, nose and throat, including the tonsils. He or she will discuss your medical history, conduct a thorough medical examination and determine whether or not surgery is required.

What surgical options are available for tonsillectomy?

It is believed that tonsillectomies have been performed for nearly 2,000 years, with a Roman surgeon named Celsus performing the first recorded tonsillectomy in 30 AD.Today, tonsillectomy is one of the most common surgical procedures with surgeons using advanced technology to remove the tonsils quickly and safely.

Typical treatment options include:

  • Scalpel: The surgeon uses a scalpel to cut away the tonsils and then sutures the tissue in the throat from which the tonsils are removed.
  • Electrocautery: The surgeon uses an electrocautery device to transmit electrical energy into the patient, cauterizing or burning the tonsils and the tissue in the throat from which the tonsils are removed.
  • Ultrasonic Energy: The surgeon uses an ultrasonic device, which removes the tonsils utilizing high frequency vibration.
  • Controlled Ablation: The surgeon transmits radio frequency energy through a saline solution, which causes the molecular bond to break apart and dissolve.

While tonsillectomy is one of the most common surgical procedures, patients often report that it is also one of the most painful. This is because many of the conventional devices used to remove the tonsils transmit energy through the patient, which can damage surrounding tissue and cause excessive bleeding and intense postoperative pain. As a result, it can take days or even weeks for a patient to fully recover and resume his or her normal life.

Is there a more advanced treatment option?

To improve the care and comfort of patients, ENT surgeons are now using a newer treatment option called ENTceps™, which utilizes a technology called Thermal Fusion. ENTceps is a forceps-style device which utilizes only direct heat and pressure to simultaneously remove the tonsils and seal the remaining tissue in the throat. The surgeon simply grasps the tissue between the jaws, squeezes the device and activates the heating element to remove the tonsil and seal the tissue from which it is removed. Because no electrical energy is required to pass through the tissue, ENTceps minimizes tissue damage. As a result, patients have experienced less pain and bleeding, fewer complications and a faster return to normal diet.4

4Karatzias G, Lachanas V, Sandris V. Thermal Welding Versus Bipolar Tonsillectomy: A Comparative Study. Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, June 2006.

Is there a more advanced treatment option?

The comfort and speed of a patient’s recovery will depend upon a variety of factors: the patient’s age, the technology used to perform the procedure and any complications incurred during the surgery. The most common complications that patients experience after tonsillectomy include:

  • Post-operative bleeding
  • Post-operative pain
  • Dehydration

Your ENT surgeon will discuss these complications with you and provide advice – and possibly medication – to help you through your recovery period.