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Tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy


What are tonsils and adenoids?

Your tonsils and adenoids belong to the part of your body that fights infections. This part is called the “lymph system.” The tonsils are in the back of your throat. The adenoids are higher up, behind your nose. Both of them help protect you from infection. They do this by trapping germs that come in through your mouth and nose. The picture shows where your tonsils and adenoids are.

Even though they help fight infection, the tonsils or adenoids can also get infected. For example, this happens if your child gets “strep throat.” The infection makes the tonsils or adenoids swollen and painful. It can be hard to swallow or breathe. Swollen adenoids can also cause ear problems.

Why does my child need tonsil or adenoid surgery?

Antibiotics usually cure a tonsil or adenoid infection. But your child might need surgery if he gets these infections often, or they cause breathing problems.

Surgery to take out the tonsils is called a “tonsillectomy.” Surgery to remove the adenoids is called an “adenoidectomy.”

How long does tonsil or adenoid surgery take?

The surgery takes 30 minutes to one (1) hour. You and your child will be at the hospital for about 5 or 6 hours.

What happens during my child’s surgery?

The surgery team gives your child general anesthesia. This means your child is “asleep” during surgery. He is not aware of anything and does not feel any discomfort.

After surgery, your child goes to the hospital recovery room to wake up from anesthesia. When your child is awake and can drink clear liquids, you can take your child home.

What can I expect when my child comes home?

Eating and drinking

Your child can have whatever he would like to eat and drink at home without vomiting or having too much pain. Start by giving your child clear liquids. The list below has tips on what to eat and drink.

Drinking plenty of liquid is important. Give your child small amounts of liquid every hour while he is awake.

Start with cool, clear liquids such as fruit juice, Jell-O®, popsicles, Gatorade®, or Pedialyte®. If your child does not vomit or have a lot of pain, he can try some soft foods such as mashed potatoes or applesauce.

Avoid sharp foods, such as chips and pretzels, for 2 weeks after surgery.

Avoid giving your child red liquids. For example, no red juice or popsicles. This is important because if your child vomits, the doctors need to know if your child is bleeding. Drinking red liquids could keep you from seeing the blood.

The table shows you how much liquid your child should drink each day. The right amount depends on how much your child weighs. You can use a measuring cup marked in ounces to keep track of how much your child drinks.

If your child weighs this much … Drink at least this many ounces of liquid
More than 20 pounds 34 ounces (oz.)
More than 30 pounds 42 oz.
More than 40 pounds 50 oz.
More than 50 pounds 58 oz.
More than 60 pounds 68 oz.

If your child does not drink enough liquid, he needs to come back to stay in the hospital until he can drink enough.

How much pain will my child have after surgery?

Your child will probably have severe (very bad) throat pain and ear pain after surgery. Ear pain usually happens between Day 3 and Day 7 after surgery. It happens because the same nerve that goes to the tonsils goes to the ears. You will have pain medications to help control the pain and make your child more comfortable. It is important to give this medicine on a regular schedule for the first week. You can also use cool wet cloths on your child’s neck. Sucking ice chips or chewing gum might help.

Will my child feel normal after surgery?

Probably not at first. Your child will probably be less active than normal. He might not want to do very much for several days. He might also have trouble falling asleep at night, or not sleep well. Your child will get back to normal in the next few days, or up to 2 weeks.

What else might happen after surgery?

Your child might be constipated for several days after surgery. This might be from pain medicine or from not eating very much. Bad breath is common after surgery. This comes from a white or yellowish “scab” that forms in the throat where the surgery was done. Gargling with a mild salt-water solution might help your child’s breath. To make this, mix 1 teaspoon of regular salt in 8 ounces of cool water. The scab breaks off when your child heals, usually between Day 5 and Day 10 after surgery. When this happens, your child might spit up some bloody mucus. If this does not stop in a few minutes, take your child to the nearest emergency room.

Bleeding is one of the main risks of tonsil and adenoid surgery. Your child should not bleed a lot from the nose or mouth after you get home. Sometimes, your child might have a small amount of slow bleeding from the nose. Please get up and check on your child 1 or 2 times during the first night after surgery. If you have any questions, please call the ENT clinic, primary clinic, or the Medicine Room.

When can my child go back to school?

Each child is different. Your child may go back when he is eating a diet that is close to normal and doing normal activities. This is usually 7 to 10 days after surgery. Your child should avoid vigorous physical activity for 14 days after surgery, because this can cause bleeding. Vigorous activity means running, jumping, rough play, riding a bike fast, or playing sports. If you have questions about which activities are OK for your child, ask the doctor or nurse.


If you have questions about your child’s tonsil or adenoid surgery, talk to the doctor or nurse. You can call the ENT clinic at 901-595-3255 or call your child’s primary clinic. You may also call the Medicine Room at 901-595-2441.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

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