Doctors' Notes

Tonsillectomy: Is it Safe?

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Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our newest contribution from Urban Health correspondents and husband and wife physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson.  The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans.  Please feel free to send them questions via digitalpitches@ebony.comWe promise to keep it anonymous. 


Question:  I have had lots of recurrent strep throat infections and my doctors are now calling for me to have my tonsils removed.  In light of all of the recent media attention surrounding the complications of tonsillectomy, I am now having second thoughts.  Is this procedure safe for the most part?  Am I wrong to worry? 

Dr. Karla says: 

While the surgical removal of tonsils has been controversial in recent years, tonsillectomy still remains one of the most common surgical procedures performed in children. In adults, approximately 150,000 tonsillectomies are performed each year.  The overall rate of complication is relatively low, and is seen in about 3 percent of cases.  Typical difficulties related to tonsil removal include anesthesia complications, bleeding, infection, and dehydration.  Your risk for developing these complications varies based on your medical history and the reason why your tonsils need to be removed.

There are various reasons that tonsillectomy would be indicated.  The more common causes include infections and obstruction.  In cases of infection, removal of the tonsils is generally indicated if there have been more than six throat infections within a year, recurrent infections in back to back years, or chronic infections unresponsive to antibiotic treatment.

Additionally, tonsillectomies may be performed in instances where the tonsils are enlarged and causing problems of obstruction of the airway.  In these instances, sleep apnea or other chronic respiratory problems may be improved with the removal of the enlarged tonsils.

Dr. Rob says: 

You are certainly well within your right to take pause before agreeing to have a tonsillectomy.  This procedure is just like any other in that there are risks associated with it.  The unfortunate developments in the Jahi McMath case were certainly a reminder of that.  But even in empathizing over the unexpected complications that took place in this case, I think an important lesson can be learned in our community that is missed too often—ask questions.

Ask, ask, and ask some more until you feel absolutely comfortable and confident about your procedure.  So often we don’t take the time to understand all of the information that the doctors may be presenting to us, or we are fearful of asking questions.  However, you have to be an active participant in your healthcare and make sure that you are in agreement with the treatment plan, not just agreeing to it.  Therefore, make sure you have had all of your questions answered regarding the surgical procedure, alternative treatment options, recovery, and possible complications you may face before you agree to the surgery, and make sure you are feeling comfortable about it.

Aside from the risks, there are many benefits associated with tonsil removal and that is why your doctor has recommended it for you.  While most adults with recurrent strep throat infections actually don’t meet the criteria for needing tonsillectomy, in certain cases it does appear to be effective in reducing the frequency of recurrent tonsil infections and also in improving the quality of life of those suffering from the symptoms of chronic tonsillitis. 

It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!

About the Doctors:

Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall Magazine and host the Urban Housecall Radio Show.  For more from the doctors, visit their website at, like them on Facebook UrbanHousecallMagazine, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!