Tonsillectomy Procedures

Traditionally, tonsillectomies have been performed with a scalpel under general anesthesia during a procedure which usually takes approximately an hour. In recent decades, many types of surgical procedures have become available for use in tonsillectomies. General or local anesthetics may be used, depending upon the method employed. Most patients return home several hours after the operation and are expected to heal within about 2 weeks.

Cold Knife Dissection

During a cold knife tonsillectomy, the doctor uses a snare, a knife curved like a circle, to remove the tonsils. This method requires general anesthesia, and approximately 2 weeks of recovery time.


Using the electrocautery method, the surgeon burns the tonsillar tissue, stemming blood loss through cauterization. While this technique greatly reduces the risk of excessive bleeding, research has shown that the heat employed can damage surrounding tissue and may lead to a more painful recovery.


During a coblation tonsillectomy, radio waves are used to ionize a saline solution, energizing the ions enough to enable them to cut through tissue and remove the tonsils. Because this procedure is performed without heat, less postsurgical pain and more efficient healing has been reported.


This technique is used for a partial tonsillectomy. The microdebrider is a powered rotary shaving device with suction, eliminating the enlarged portion of the tonsil while preserving some tonsillar tissue. A natural biologic dressing is placed over the tonsil in order to prevent inflammation and infection. This procedure has been shown to result in less pain, dehydration and bleeding and a more rapid recovery. Because this procedure leaves part of the tonsil intact, however, it is recommended as a treatment for enlarged tonsils rather than infected ones.

Harmonic Scalpel

In this technique, ultrasonic vibrations are used to simultaneously cut tissue and cauterize the wound. An advantage of this technique is minimal damage to the surrounding tissue since sound waves, rather than heat, are responsible for excision.

Laser Ablation

During laser ablation, a handheld laser device uses carbon dioxide to cut and destroy the tonsillar tissue. This technique reduces tonsil volume and eliminates recesses that collect recurrent infectious bacteria. This procedure is recommended for chronic sufferers of tonsillitis, chronic sore throats, severe halitosis, or airway obstruction caused by enlarged tonsils. The laser tonsil ablation is performed in 15 to 20 minutes under local anesthesia. The patient may experience minimal discomfort and may return to school or work the next day.

Some types of tonsillectomy procedures result in shorter recovery times and less post surgical soreness, but not all types of surgery are appropriate for all patients.

While a tonsillectomy will greatly reduce the number of throat infections, it is possible for throat infections to recur after surgery. Additionally, the tonsils may partially grow back after a tonsillectomy, especially if some tonsillar tissue is left at the site.