Tonsillectomy is the surgical removal of the tonsils, two lymphatic tissues found in the throat. Tonsils protect the body from infection but often become problematic, especially for children. A recurrent sore throat, ear infection or difficulty breathing leads many Americans to have their tonsils removed. Like all surgical procedures, complications or undesirable outcomes are possible.
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Children under the age of five may be traumatized by going to the hospital, explains the Encyclopedia of Surgery. Older children may become frightened as well, and any child may worry excessively that he might die, become permanently injured, or be abandoned at the hospital. The removal of a body part is often upsetting to a child, who could begin to imagine that other body parts might need to be removed in the future. Being held down for painful procedures such as needle sticks, being forced to take medications and being separated from parents all carry the potential for trauma.
Most tonsillectomies are performed under general anesthesia, which carries risks for both adults and children. The medications used to anesthetize the patient can cause severe reactions, including breathing difficulties and delirium upon awakening. Elderly patients and those in poor health are at increased risk of anesthesia-related complications.
As with all surgeries, a tonsillectomy carries the risk of bleeding. Excessive bleeding can be difficult to manage during surgery, leading to blood loss. Blood can be aspirated or pulled into the lungs during surgery or while the patient is recovering from anesthesia, causing aspiration pneumonia. Excessive bleeding may also occur when the scabs release from the surgical sites in the throat; this complication is more common in adults and teens, according to the Texas Pediatric Surgical Associates. The risk of this bleeding peaks between 5 and 10 days postoperatively.
Mild post-operative infections are common as bacteria clump to the areas where the tonsils have been removed. A mild fever may occur and the healing process may be slightly delayed. These infections are usually treated with oral antibiotics. Rarely, a serious infection may result from a tonsillectomy.