What Are the Risks of Having Your Tonsils Removed?

Boy ready for surgery.
Boy ready for surgery. Bob Kramer/Getty Images

Thousands of people have their tonsils removed safely each year in the United States, but there are risks you should know about before having a tonsillectomy.

Risk of Post-Operative Bleeding

This is a rare and serious complication of having your tonsils removed. Any bright red blood coming from your throat should be reported to a medical professional immediately. Vomiting old blood may also be a sign of bleeding.

The tonsil beds can be checked for bleeding using a tongue depressor or popsicle stick and a flashlight. If you had your adenoids removed also you may have a tiny bit of blood-tinged liquid come out of your nose. This is normal, but you should check your throat for bleeding at this time. The risk of post-operative bleeding after having your tonsils removed is highest immediately after surgery and approximately 5 to 7 days later, when the scabs come off of the tonsil beds.

Risk of Chipped Teeth

There are two ways you may get a chipped tooth while having your tonsils removed. First, it is possible to get a chipped tooth while the anesthesiologist is putting a breathing tube in. The breathing tube is necessary anytime you undergo general anesthesia. Chipped teeth rarely happen. The other way you could get a chipped tooth while having your tonsils removed is if the mouth gag retractor, (a device used to hold your mouth open during surgery) slips.

The chances of this happening are also rare.

Risk of Breathing Difficulties

Breathing difficulties after having your tonsils removed are usually a result of narcotic pain medication and anesthesia. Sleep apnea increases your risk of having breathing problems after having your tonsils removed.

Risk of Altered Speech

Hypernasal speech can occur when you have your adenoids removed along with your tonsils.

It is caused by excessive swelling or scarring. If the speech changes are due to swelling they will be temporary. Hypernasal speech caused by scarring may be permanent.

Risk of Nasopharyngeal Stenosis

Like hypernasal speech, this also can occur when having your adenoids removed along with your tonsils, and is caused by excessive scarring. Nasopharyngeal stenosis is a narrowing of the nasopharyngeal opening which is behind the nose. This may make it difficult to breathe through your nose, swallow, and may cause snoring or hearing loss.

Risk of Burns During Cauterization

Electrocautery is frequently used during surgery without incident, but burns are possible. The risk of being burned while having your tonsils removed may be higher if you go into surgery wearing metal accessories. All jewelry and barrettes should be removed. However, sometimes wedding rings become "stuck". Many patients undergo surgery wearing rings that cannot be removed and do not experience burns.

Risk of Developing Malignant Hyperthermia

Malignant hyperthermia can happen to any patient undergoing general anesthesia. This is a rare condition in which the body's temperature becomes dangerously high. The risk of developing malignant hyperthermia while having your tonsils removed is greater if you have a family history of muscular dystrophy.

Your anesthesiologist should be informed of your family history so that he or she can avoid giving you anesthetic medications, which have been known to trigger malignant hyperthermia, if necessary.

Risk of an Unplanned Hospital Stay

Tonsillectomies are usually performed on a "same day" basis, however, there are a few complications that can result in an unplanned hospital stay. One is the inability to wean off of oxygen after surgery. A history of lung disease or sleep apnea can increase your risk of this complication. You may also have to stay in the hospital if you have uncontrolled nausea and vomiting, pain or bleeding.

Risk of Death

Any surgical procedure carries the risk of death, especially if general anesthesia is used. The incidence of death in persons having their tonsils removed is approximately 1 in 15,000.

This article covers many of the risks of having your tonsils removed but is not comprehensive. You should discuss all the risks and benefits of having your tonsils removed with your surgeon. While this article may be discouraging, you should keep in mind that the vast majority of patients do not experience these complications.


ENTUSA.com. Tonsillectomy - Tonsil and Adenoid Surgery. Accessed: October 27, 2010 from http://www.entusa.com/tonsils_adenoid_surgery.htm

ENTUSA.com. Tonsillectomy - Tonsil and Adenoid Surgery Complications. Accessed: October 27, 2010 from http://www.entusa.com/tonsillectomy_complications.htm

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