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When do adults need their tonsils removed?

Posted August 09, 2021 by Ryan Gerritsen, M.D.

Doctor looking at womans tonsils

Tonsillectomies are common surgeries performed on children. But sometimes adults can benefit from having their tonsils removed, too.

Tonsils are two oval-shaped clumps of tissue that sit in the back of your throat to trap germs that enter your body through your mouth or nose. Because they are your immune system’s first line of defense against bacteria or viruses, they are particularly vulnerable to infection and inflammation. This can cause recurring sore throats, snoring and other chronic problems.

Summa Health describes a few situations that may require a tonsillectomy as an adult.

Sore Throat

One of the most common reasons for a visit to your primary care provider is a sore throat. The most likely reasons your physician may recommend a tonsillectomy are frequent, severe sore throats or a chronic infection in your tonsils.

However, if you have infrequent, uncomplicated infections, your doctor will probably just treat you as needed.

Abscess on your Tonsils

If you experience severe pain, fever, significant bulging around your tonsils, pain when you open your mouth or you notice your uvula is shifted to one side, you may have an abscess on your tonsils and should seek medical attention immediately.

While it is typically treated with antibiotics and drainage, 10 to 15 percent of the time the abscess returns, prompting some clinicians to recommend tonsillectomy early in the course of treatment, rather than waiting for it to come back.

Sleep Apnea

If your tonsils are enlarged, they may actually obstruct your airway when you lie down and cause you to temporarily stop breathing in your sleep, a condition known as sleep apnea. You could wake up in the middle of the night gasping for breath.

Chances are, if you have sleep apnea, you may have been told that you snore loudly, as well. However, loud snoring does not necessarily mean you have sleep apnea.

If it’s suspected enlarged tonsils are the cause of your sleep apnea, your physician may recommend a tonsillectomy.

One Big Tonsil

If one of your tonsils is much larger than the other, your doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy as a precaution to rule out serious underlying causes.

Surgery is typically recommended only if you have other related symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing, persistent pain, swelling of the glands in your neck, or one tonsil that keeps getting larger and larger over time. The good news is most of the time, having one enlarged tonsil is simply due to a minor issue.

If you’re concerned about your tonsils, schedule an appointment with one of our ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists to discuss your symptoms.


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If your situation is an emergency, call 911.