What are tonsils and why do I have them?

Tonsils are fleshy masses of lymphatic tissue that help fight off illness and infection. The tonsils are located on both sides of the throat and in the back of the throat, behind the nose. They are part of our lymphatic system and, in their healthy state, produce antibodies to battle bacteria that enter through the mouth and nose.

Why do mine hurt?

Tonsils help the body fight infection by sampling germs that enter our bodies through the nose and mouth when we breathe. Sometimes, the tonsils themselves can become infected, which leads to redness and inflammation. When the tonsils are inflamed, swallowing can become very painful.

Why do we have them taken out?

Tonsils are removed for two main reasons: recurrent infection and tonsillar hypertrophy (enlarged tonsils). Tonsillar infection leads to inflammation and swelling (tonsillitis), which can be very painful. A patient who develops tonsillitis repeatedly in a relatively short amount of time is said to have recurrent tonsillitis. To treat recurrent tonsillitis, doctors may consider removing the tonsils. Enlarged tonsils, by contrast, are typically not painful, but in some cases they can block the throat or restrict airflow during breathing.

Is it common for people to have their tonsils taken out?

tonsillectomy is one of the most commonly performed procedures today. Approximately 600,000 adult and pediatric tonsillectomies are performed annually in the US.*

* Noordzij JP, Affleck BD. COBLATION versus unipolar electrocautery tonsillectomy: a prospective, randomized, single-blind study in adult patients. Laryngoscope 2006;116(8):1303-9.