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What Are Tonsils And Do We Need Them?

Written By: Emma Squillace

Thirty to fifty years ago, having tonsils removed was a very common operation in children. Today, fewer people have their tonsils removed but we still see over half a million children having a tonsillectomy each year. Although this operation is not done as regularly in adults, it is still considered a fairly common adult surgery. If you find you’re having symptoms that may be caused by problems with your tonsils, here are some questions you likely have:

What are tonsils?

Your tonsils are two small, pink structures made up of tissue that’s similar to your lymph nodes. The tonsils are near the back of your mouth, one on either side. These small structures are soft and covered with a wet, pink lining much like your mouth.

What is the purpose of tonsils?

It is believed that our tonsils play a role in protecting us from infection. Because of their location, tonsils are exposed to bacteria and viruses that we may breathe in. The tonsils are able to tell if we’ve breathed something that could make us sick. If a danger is detected, tonsils can help the immune system create antibodies to fight the danger. However, this also puts the tonsils at a greater risk of getting infected. When your tonsils are working to fight off bacteria or viruses, they may get red, swollen, and painful. It is thought that as we get older, our tonsils are less necessary in helping our immune systems.

Why do so many people have their tonsils taken out?

People have their tonsils removed because even though tonsils can be beneficial to the immune system – especially when we’re younger – they can also be the cause of recurring infections. Strep throat that occurs several times per year had been the primary driver of doctors recommending tonsil removal for decades, but these days the reasons are varied. Today, the majority of tonsil removals in children are done because the tonsils are causing obstructive sleep apnea. Although sleep apnea is common in adults, it is generally not attributed to tonsils. Instead, adults who have their tonsils removed are more likely having the surgery in response to recurring infections or sore throats. Studies have shown that adults without tonsils have fewer throat infections and fewer sore throats than those adults who do not have their tonsils removed.

What are the signs I may have trouble with my tonsils?

Certain symptoms can indicate tonsil problems, but remember there could be multiple causes for any one of these issues. Common reasons we evaluate people for tonsil trouble are: throat and/or ear pain; red tonsils or the appearance of white patches on your tonsils; inability to breathe easily because of enlarged tonsils; fever; difficulty swallowing; and drooling. Our ENT specialists can examine you and help you understand if your symptoms are likely caused by your tonsils, or by something else.

If I have tonsil problems, will I need to have surgery?

Not necessarily. At West Medical we treat a wide range of tonsil symptoms in several ways. There are lifestyle changes you can make, and some people benefit from taking antibiotics. However, antibiotics are not a useful treatment for viral infections, so we can help you understand if that’s a good option for you. If tonsillectomy is likely going to treat your symptoms, we’ll explain how the surgery would work for you. In most cases it is a short procedure and you’ll go home the same day. Our patients who have chronic or severe tonsillitis are often good candidates for this surgical procedure.

At West Medical, our ENTs specialize in disorders of the ears, nose, and throat. They regularly diagnose and treat patients who are struggling with recurring problems with their tonsils. If you’ve had multiple bouts of strep throat, ongoing throat or ear pain, or other indications of tonsillitis, give us a call. You can speak to our expert team or set up a consultation by calling 855-690-0565.

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