What to Expect if Your Child Needs Their Tonsils Removed

Routine examination of little girl's throat


Removal of the tonsils is a common procedure that may be necessary if a child (or adult) has severe or recurring tonsillitis. This surgery is called tonsillectomy. By the time the doctor orders the tonsils to be removed, parents are well aware of their child’s health issue. The child will have had several problems involving the tonsils and will have been seen by the doctor on many occasions. In spite of the fact that you may have seen it coming, the idea of your child being hospitalized for surgery will still cause anxiety. It is best to know what to expect so that you can be prepared for what will happen.

When the doctor decides that tonsillectomy is needed, he will discuss his recommendation with you in his office. He will tell you how the surgery is performed, what type of anesthesia will be used, possible complications, and risk factors. Because of the anxiety and stress this puts on parents, even those with the best listening skills will miss a lot of this information. Don’t feel bad if you get home and realize that you can’t remember what the doctor said.

Tonsillectomy is rarely an emergency operation. If there is a bacterial infection your child will need to take a round of antibiotics to clear it up before the surgery. This usually takes 10 days. In most cases, the operation will be scheduled shortly after this.

Depending on your child’s age, the doctor will advise you on when to let your child know that they are going to be staying in the hospital. If your child is old enough, they may be afraid and will ask you many questions. Try to be honest with your child while explaining the situation in a way that they can understand. If you need help with this, the nurses in your doctor’s office can be wonderful resource.  

When you arrive at the hospital, you will first be asked to fill out a stack of paperwork. Once this task is complete, your child will be taken to their room. Here, your child’s nurse will perform a complete health assessment. She will ask many of the same questions that were on the forms you filled out. It can be a little frustrating, but this is a measure to insure that all the information is correct. Your child will have the best outcome if the hospital staff has a clear and accurate understanding of your child’s specific needs.

Doctor examining child


Painful or invasive procedures are never done in a pediatric patient’s hospital room. Expect that your child will be taken to a different area of the hospital to have their IV and catheter inserted. Don’t worry, you will be allowed to accompany your child to comfort them when this happens. This is done so that the child does not associate their room with pain or stress. This allows them to feel safe and secure in their room, just like at home.  

When it comes time to take your child to the operating room, he or she most likely will be given a mild sedative to help them stay calm and relaxed. Most hospitals allow parents to stay with their child until they are actually taken into the operating room. This time is often harder on the parents than the child. Try to stay as calm as you can. Assure your child that you will be waiting when the surgery is over.

When your child comes out of surgery, they will still be under the effects of the anesthesia. Some children become upset, while others say silly things that don’t make sense. As the anesthesia wears off, they will begin to act more like themselves. They may experience pain at this time, but they will be given medication for this.

Directly after surgery, your child may only be allowed to have ice chips or small sips of water. The nurse will need to make sure that your child doesn’t have difficulty swallowing before allowing them to have much to eat or drink. Usually within a couple of hours, your child will be allowed to have liquids. They will be offered non-carbonated, low-acidic beverages. These types of fluids will be the most gentle on your child’s throat. Soon, however, they will be transitioned to soft foods.

child tonsils


Nurses will monitor your child closely for the first 24 hours. They will need to make sure that your child is able to breathe without difficulty, able to take in nutrition, and not bleeding excessively. If all is well, they will be released from the hospital in a day or two.

At home, your child will still experience pain and will need to take medication for this. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is usually recommended for the pain. Your child will be instructed to avoid coughing and blowing his or her nose. This is to prevent disruption of the surgical site. You will need to provide soft foods for at least 3 weeks while your child’s throat heals. You will be given clear instructions on the amount and type of activity that your child should have. Make sure that they get plenty of fluid and rest.

Because there is a slight risk of hemorrhage (excessive bleeding) after tonsillectomy, you will need to monitor your child for signs of bleeding. It is not uncommon to see small amounts of dark blood following surgery. This is old blood and usually is not a sign of complication. However, if you see bright red blood, you will need to call the doctor. Frequent swallowing is a sign that your child’s surgical site may be blooding, so keep an eye out for that. Avoid giving your child red or brown foods so that it is not confused with bleeding. Your child is at the highest risk of bleeding 4-10 days after surgery.

Family breakfast - child tonsils


Any time a child is ill is a hard time for parents. A child in the hospital is especially stressful. If your child needs to have their tonsils removed, equip yourself with information so you are able to help your child and yourself through this difficult time. Before you know it, your child will be feeling a lot better.


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