Tonsillectomy Complications

Tonsils are like oval-shaped pads of tissue located at the back of your throat. Due to certain complications, it becomes necessary to remove the tonsils through a procedure called tonsillectomy. This surgical procedure was once quite common for the treatment of infected and inflamed tonsils, but today, it is more often performed for sleep-disordered breathing. You may still consider it for tonsils if you see no improvement from other treatments. Be sure to talk to your doctor to know about tonsillectomy complications before undergoing the procedure.

How Is Tonsillectomy Performed?

Done usually as an outpatient procedure and under general anesthesia, the procedure involves using a blade or scalpel to cut out the tonsils. Your surgeon may decide to use a specialized surgical tool that uses high-energy heat to destroy or remove tissues. As it is an outpatient procedure, you are usually free to go home soon after your surgery. Your doctor may recommend an overnight stay in case some complications arise.

Possible Tonsillectomy Complications to Watch Out For

Just like other surgical procedures, there are risks associated with tonsillectomy as well. The most common side effects are vomiting, nausea, difficulty swallowing, throat pain, bad breath, low-grade fever, fatigue, and earache. These side effects may vary in severity and frequency, but children are less likely to experience severe tonsillectomy complications.Here are some other expected complications associated with a tonsillectomy.

1. General Anesthesia Effects

Usually performed under general anesthesia, tonsillectomies may lead to issues such a nausea, vomiting, and respiratory problems. These risks are associated with general anesthesia and can be life threatening at times. You may not experience serious effects if you have had a surgery in the past under general anesthesia. You are at a higher risk though if you have a family history of muscular dystrophy, pseudocholinesterase deficiency, malignant hyperthermia, or death from general anesthesia. You may have to deal with breathing problems after general anesthesia if you already have asthma, sleep apnea or another chronic respiratory condition.

2. Bleeding after Surgery

  • Just like other surgical procedures, there is always a risk of bleeding during or after the procedure. Bleeding is possible in tonsillectomy and can lead to serious problem because tonsils are especially close to major blood vessels. It is rare to experience serious complications related to bleeding, but it is possible and may require additional surgery.
  • The risk of bleeding is the highest within the first 24 hours after surgery and 6-10 days after your surgery. Your risk of bleeding increases if you already have diseases such as anemia or hemophilia. Being on ibuprofen, aspiring, or prescription blood thinners may also increase the risk of bleeding after your surgery. You may also have to deal with tonsillectomy complications related to bleeding if you are dehydrated – this will cause scabs to come off early and cause bleeding.
  • Some people may swallow blood during surgery, which comes out in saliva. You may also vomit and see blood in it, which will appear brown. You do not have to worry about it because it is nothing serious. Just be sure to talk to your doctor immediately if you notice bright red blood coming out of your tonsils or mouth after a tonsillectomy.

3. Infection

Infection is another issue on the list of tonsillectomy complications. While it happens rarely, there is always a possibility. Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. You should go talk to your doctor if you notice any signs of infections, such as high fever (greater than 101 °F), severe earache, and symptoms of an upper respiratory infection, such as green mucus, coughing, and difficulty breathing.

4. Other Rare Complications

In addition to bleeding and infection, you may experience some other complications as well. Although the risk is quite low, you may have to deal with issues such as upper airway obstruction, burns during surgical cautery, and damage to the teeth. Other rare complications include allergic reactions to medications and inhalation of stomach content when under anesthesia.

When to See a Doctor

Not everyone experiences tonsillectomy complications after the procedure, but if it happens, you need to know when to call your doctor.

  • Bleeding: You may notice blood in the saliva or the nose after the procedure, which is normal. You should see your doctor immediately if you notice any bright red blood. You may require surgery to stop bleeding.
  • Fever: Do not ignore a fever higher than 102 °F – it may indicate something serious.
  • Dehydration: Be sure to talk to your doctor if you notice any signs of dehydration, such as thirst, reduced urination, headache, weakness, lightheadedness, or dizziness.
  • Breathing problems: It is common to snore or have noisy breathing during the first week after your surgery. It is normal, so long as you have no difficulty breathing. 
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