Information on Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeries
Tonsil and Adenoid Surgery


Tonsillectomy - Tonsil & Adenoid Surgery Complications
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(1) Anesthesia - this is a chemical in the body not normally there, so a chance for problems is always present.  But, because of their experience and skill, the anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists have very few problems.  Specific questions can be answered by them.


(2) Bleeding - Approximately one in fifty children return to the operating room  for bleeding.  The incidence may be higher in adults and may approach one in twenty patients depending upon the surgical technique used.

There is usually not to much bleeding during the operation, but there is always a chance of bleeding after your child comes home after the operation. Granell,, ( View Abstract )  reported that 2.9% of children had to return to the operating room for control of bleeding and Windfuhr, et. al., (2005) also reported a 1.5% postoperative bleeding rate using a "COLD" technique.  However in this study, the bleeding occurred in the first 24 hours in 76% of tonsillectomy patients. View Abstract    In my practice, patients rarely bleed within the first 24 hours. The most common time for a child to bleed after tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy is between 4 to 8 days after surgery.  

A few children will bleed on the first day after surgery, usually within the first 2 hours.  Nicklaus, et. al.,  reported a post-tonsillectomy bleeding rate in the first 24 hours of 1.4% and all of these bleeds occurred within 75 minutes after surgery.  View Abstract   For this reason,  your child will be watched for at least 2 hours after surgery.  View Abstract .  However, bleeding can occur at any time, until everything is healed, which takes about two to three weeks.  Most children do not have significant bleeding afterwards, but every year a few do.   If this occurs, have the child swallow some ice water.  If the bleeding persists, you should bring your child to the Emergency Room for evaluation.  Sometimes, the child may have to return to the operating room to control the bleeding. 

Over the past decade, using the technique shown in the "Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy Video" I have a postoperative bleeding rate of under 2%.  The technique is a combination of a COLD and HOT technique with removal of the tonsils with a scalpel and snare and control of bleeding with electrocautery on a low setting.

I have performed coblation tonsillectomy on over 300 patients.  The rate of bleeding for return to the operating room or requiring cautery was over 4%. 

3) Pain - Having adenoids removed requires 2-3 days of recovery with some pain or discomfort.  After tonsils are removed, it hurts!  It usually takes a week to 10 days for full recovery.  A shorter period of time may occur with the use of coblationPain medicine and diet instructions are given on the day of surgery.  Another technique commonly used to remove tonsils is "Sharp Dissection" with the use of electrocautery to control bleeding.  This technique has been shown in multiple studies to create less pain than excising the tonsils using an electrocautery or "bovie", with little difference in the postoperative bleeding rates.   View Abstract

4)  Hypernasal speech may rarely occur after an adenoidectomy.  This type of speech results from the failure of the
soft palate (back part of the roof of the mouth) to close off the nasopharynx (back part of the nose).  This may normally occur during the first four weeks after surgery but prolonged cases may require speech therapy.   If the speech is very poor, corrective surgery may be needed.  This complication usually happens in children who have abnormalities in their soft palate and occurs in about 1 in 3000 surgeries.  It is extremely rare to occur from a tonsillectomy alone.

5)  Rarely, a small through and through hole may develop in one of the folds in the back of the throat.  This will not cause any problems and does not require treatment.
6)  Other very rare complications include:  Nasopharyngeal stenosis (the back part of the nose scars shut) from an adenoidectomy and tonsillectomy and damage and dislocation of the cervical spine. 
7) Death:  This is a very rare but devastating complication. The factors which can cause death is massive hemorrhage and anesthetic complications such as reaction to the anesthestic or inhaling stomach contents. The incidence of death after tonsillectomy is one in every 15,000 patients. An ENT surgeon will perform 5 to 10 thousand tonsillectomy patients in his carrier giving him about a 50-50 chance of having one of his patients die from the surgery.

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