Tonsillectomy for Obstructive Sleep Apnea

A tonsillectomy is one of the most common procedures for obstructive sleep apnea. While most people hear about tonsil removal during childhood, tonsils can be safely removed at any age.

The tonsils are a grouping of three sets of tissue in the back of the throat. The traditional tonsils (palatine tonsils) are located on each side of the throat when you look in the mouth. They usually reach maximum size during childhood but can be persistently enlarged and cause infections in adulthood.

The adenoids are a set of tonsils behind the nose that grow during childhood and usually shrink down to a minimal size without causing any issues. They rarely need removal during adulthood. The lingual tonsils are located on the back of the tongue and can be enlarged in adults. They are removed using a procedure called a lingual tonsillectomy.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tonsillectomy

You must first undergo a medical evaluation to review your past sleep study records, medical history and in many cases have a diagnostic evaluation with a drug induced sleep endoscopy.

Some patients have blockage of the airway due to enlarged tonsils. In cases severe enough to block the airway, this can cause sleep apnea.

  • A tonsillectomy is performed under general anesthesia in the operating room.
  • During the procedure, your physician will remove the tonsils using a radiofrequency device called a coblator. This device provides a cooling layer of saline to the surgical field to minimize tissue heating or damage.
  • The tonsils are each removed separately and sent to pathology to be examined for any abnormalities.

After surgery, patients are kept overnight at the hospital for observation and pain control. Your care team will give you clear, detailed care instructions and an appointment will be scheduled one week after surgery.

  • You should expect to be off work for about one to two weeks and no heavy lifting or vigorous activity for two weeks.
  • During this time, you will be provided pain medication and rinses to help your throat heal.
  • Eat a soft diet during this time. Protein shakes are a helpful nutrition supplement.
  • It is important to monitor for any bleeding. If this occurs go to the emergency room for evaluation.

Additional appointments will be scheduled one month after surgery and again at three months for additional testing. Once effective treatment is confirmed, patients typically follow up once a year to ensure their sleep apnea symptoms are not returning and no new issues are arising.

Pain is one of the most common thoughts when people hear the word tonsillectomy. You will receive adequate pain medication in the postoperative period. At your one-week follow up appointment, your physician can help you address any issues with your recovery.

The surgical changes are permanent and designed to last for years. However, weight changes can affect anatomy.

Avoid heavy lifting for two weeks after surgery to prevent complications. After that, you may return to all normal activities, including sports.

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