Adult Tonsillectomy Risks

There is encouraging news for adults considering tonsillectomy surgery.  A recent study indicates that risks for adults undergoing tonsillectomy surgery are very similar to those in pediatric patients.

Research Indicates Adult Tonsillectomy Risks Similar to Pediatric

This is exciting because, though there has long been extensive research indicating relative safety, or low risk of complications, with pediatric tonsillectomy, there really has not been such a comprehensive study of adult patients.

Adult Tonsillectomy Risks Research
Adult Tonsillectomy Risks Research

According to research recently published online January 30 in JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery. The study indicates that  tonsillectomy in adults is a very safe procedure and shows low rates of mortality or complications.

A recent article in MedScape Medical News reports,

“Although there is ample evidence of pediatric tonsillectomy safety, research on adult tonsillectomy is lacking. Tonsillectomy is one of the most common surgeries, according to the authors, with 297,000 tonsillectomies performed in 2006 in patients older than 15 years. This new study is believed to be the first population-level study on adult tonsillectomy.

For the retrospective study, Michelle M. Chen, BA, from the Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, and colleagues evaluated data on 5968 adult patients included in the database of the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program. All patients underwent tonsillectomy between 2005 and 2011.

The 30-day mortality rate among the patients was 0.03%, and the rate of complications was 1.2%. The reoperation rate was 3.2%, which is slightly higher than the reoperation rate reported in the pediatric literature, which ranges from 0.5% to 2.1%.

The most common indications for surgery were chronic tonsillitis and/or adenoiditis (82.9%). Infections were the most common postoperative complication, with pneumonia the most common infection (27%), followed by urinary tract infection (27%) and superficial site infections (16%).

Although twice as many women as men underwent tonsillectomy in the cohort, the strongest risk factor associated with reoperation was being male (54.0% of those who had a reoperation vs 32.4% of those who did not; P < .001). Other risk factors included being white (84.8% vs 75.3%; P = .02), being an inpatient”

…..and further reports,

“The overall rate of substantial bleeding in the cohort was 0.08%, and there was no association between sex and substantial postoperative bleeding, the authors note.

“Our data indicate that adult tonsillectomy in the United States is a safe procedure; however, additional research into the prevention of postoperative infection in high-risk patients may be useful in continuing to reduce reoperation rates,” the authors write.”

The research was supported by the James G. Hirsch, MD, Endowed Medical Student Research Fellowship at Yale University School of Medicine. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. Published online January 30, 2014. Abstract

As a long time blogger and supporter of adults facing or recovering from this surgery, I am especially excited to read of this research.  As many of my readers have noted, many of the comments here on the website highlight some pretty negative experiences that adult patients have.  (There are over 7000 comments at the time this article is published)  Many of those commenting experienced complications requiring medical attention.  I have long suspected that patients with fewer complications are less likely to post comments about their experience.

This new study, in no way, diminishes the very real, and very difficult experiences that so many of my readers have shared.  I am personally grateful for every story shared, but when faced with big decisions like surgery, patients need to arm themselves with objective information. This new study offers valuable and reliable information for those struggling to decide between the problems their tonsils cause them, and the risks associated with having them removed.

Greg Tooke


  1. Hello, 30 year old female on day 1 post op. Was so scared going down to the operation room but can honestly say I had nothing to worry about. Woke up in recovery no real pain about a 2 just felt like mild tonsillitis, really mild! Once again nothing to fear! Brought back up and started on sips of water, no problem swallowing, first sip had little sting but fine after. Once I had 2 glasses I was given toast. Was a bit worried about this as was afraid I would choke but it was fine, chewed lots chased wirh water and had 2 slices. Felt great after it, like it gently exfoliated the site. Took everyone’s advice and kept up constant sips of water throughout the night to keep it moist also started chewing gum on both sides to keep everything loose. My doctor gave me antibiotic, anti inflammatory and pain relief (Solpadol) so far so good, eating toast noodles, pasta, keeping up on water. I know it wil get tough in a few days but im so glad that I had this surgery! No more nastly tonsils!

    1. Hi Twillx! Thanks for posting. You’re right- some rougher days are probably ahead but it will be worth it in the end. I sure know that it was for me. Best of luck and stay in touch.

  2. I had my tonsils out july 22/13 aged 36 female. Ive had nothing but issues. Postop infection and i often choke as food get caught in a pocket. It burns hurts and causes me yo gag its very embarassing. On the other hand no more infections

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