Must I have surgery for my tonsillitis?
October 25, 2005 12:17 AM   Subscribe

Tonsillitis - I'd like some advice from anyone who has had tonsillitis as an adult - how was it treated, antibiotics or the knife?

One of my tonsils is in really bad shape right now and I am shamefully afraid that my sawbones will want to carve me up. How likely is this in the age of Antibiotics? My mental state isn't helped at the moment by all this infection in my system. I haven't heard any good stories about adult tonsillectomies, just 'the horror'. I am tossing up self-medicating on Augmentin, gargling with a lot of salt water and hoping it goes away. Yes, I am the world's biggest coward. Please hold my hand and help me make the right decision.
posted by Catch to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Strange - A friend of mine just had tonsillitus, and was given a bunch of antibiotics. The Doc said that they didn't tend to chop them out any more. This is the UK, so your milage may vary.
posted by seanyboy at 12:25 AM on October 25, 2005

I have had at least 5 bouts of tonsillitis since xmas and like you I have been trying to avoid surgery.

I have been taking antibiotics (prophylaxis) for the last six months to try and keep my infection level down. This has helped to reduce the number of bouts but I am still getting ill every 8 weeks or so.

I had my tonsils removed when I was a kid after being constantly ill. My current doctor reckons that they have either regrown or they missed some of the tissue.

I am going to get them removed as soon as possible. Taking antibiotics daily is not fun.
posted by voon_42 at 12:52 AM on October 25, 2005

As a general rule, they don't remove them as often as they used to. The last explanation I heard was that they believe that your tonsils have a role in the virus fighting capabilities of your body and removing them does you no real favours in the long run. How true this is, I couldn't tell you, but i picked it up from my Doc.

In general they only chop them out if you keep getting reinfection after reinfection.
posted by twine42 at 1:23 AM on October 25, 2005

I went under the knife after three or four years of two or three infections a year. Each infection was taking a little longer to clear up, and the symptoms were getting progressively worse.

My doctor didn't even raise the subject of surgery -- I brought it up. I don't think he would ever has considered it, to be honest, but I didn't have it nearly as bad as voon_42, thank god.

Yes, recovery from the surgery is torture. At the time you think it is the worst pain you have ever experienced. But it lasts for a week or two and never comes back. Think of it as a really bad dose of tonsillitis but the last one you will ever experience. Since the operation, I get fewer colds and hardly ever have a sore throat.

Don't self-medicate -- go see your doctor. Chances are they'll give you a course of penicillin and send you on your way. But if you suffer a lot from tonsillitis, I'd recommend you at least talk over the options with your doctor.
posted by londonmark at 2:50 AM on October 25, 2005

I had it when I was 16-17, not quite adult but perhaps close enough. I was given antibiotics, but more importantly, delicious, delicious codeine, which I needed because I think that's the only illness/injury I've had that NyQuil wasn't good enough for.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:00 AM on October 25, 2005

Don't know, but I used to get infected tonsils several times a year. Then I quit smoking menthol cigarettes. No more tonsillitis. YMMV

For a real taste treat, try gargling with hydrogenperoxide. Makes warm salt water taste like nectar! Just don't swallow.

Oh, another caveat: beware of lozenges and throat sprays that kill pain. I found they always made the infection get worse. No idea why.
posted by Goofyy at 3:31 AM on October 25, 2005

I had my tonsils out at age 19 after several years of running a low-grade fever from November-March. My doctor suspected my larger-than-average tonsils were serving as a fertile little breeding ground for semi-nasty bacteria. I suspect he was correct, because I haven't had the problem since.

As far as the actual procedure... wasn't all that bad. I had the worst sore throat of my life for about a week afterwards, but I learned a neat little trick: If you take a water bottle with you to the movies, when you're told that you're not allowed to bring your own food/beverages in, tell them you've just had your tonsils out and it's important to the healing process that your throat stay wet.
posted by ferociouskitty at 4:16 AM on October 25, 2005

For the love of little green apples, go see a doctor. First of all, no one is going to force you to have surgery if you don't want to. Second, you might have a problem that's more serious than you know. "Tonsillitis," especially in adults, can actually be an abscess or a tumor. It needs to be checked out. Finally, DON'T self-treat with Augmentin. Less than 10% of adult tonsillitis is caused by strep; the vast majority are viral. Augmentin won't help those, and it may give you a fabulous and exciting additional problem, especially if you happen to be female.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:18 AM on October 25, 2005

How old are you? You might outgrow it. In my late teens through to my mid twenties, I had near constant tonsillitis. The doctors started talking about taking them out, but I was chicken. Good thing too, because eventually the tonsillitis dwindled and went away. It's been years since I had a bout. I eventually found that if I just waited it out for 10 miserable days of sore throat & low fever, it would go away for a while; no antibiotics necessary. Gargling with salt water helps a little, so does ibuprofen.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:26 AM on October 25, 2005

I had my tonsils out at age 20 after 12-15 infections per year. Post op biopsy indicated several abcesses. I now almost never get a sore throat. The removal was by far the worst sore throat I ever had, but worth it.
posted by lester at 8:08 AM on October 25, 2005

I've had 4 bouts of tonsillitis since May 2005. The first time I saw my Ear-Nose-Throat Doc, after the 3rd bout, he suggested an aggressive course of antibiotics to attempt to wipe out any resident bacteria which may be causing the infections. He said if that didn't work, we should consider a tonsillectomy.

I had bout #4 of fever/sore throat (tonsillitis) about 10 days after finishing the last course of antibiotics. I went back to the ENT, and told him I was ready for a tonsillectomy. The ENT didn't really care whether or not I took prophylaptic antibiotics for a a while or did the Tonsillectomy, which he said would be painful.

Anyhow, I'm realllllly tired of taking antibiotics. I'm even more tired of having a 102F fever and sore throat if I don't take antibiotics. I have a tonsillectomy scheduled for November 11.

I'm 30 years old. I'm not looking forward to the surgery, but I am looking forward to life without infection-prone-cells in my throat.

I don't think you need worry about being pressured to have a tonsillectomy after only one bout of tonsillitis. If you have several more this year, though, you might be ready to have your tonsils removed.
posted by u2604ab at 8:16 AM on October 25, 2005

I had my tonsils and adenoids removed at 18, and havent had any problems since. Recovery hurt like a bitch (I went through a LOT of Chloraseptic).
posted by mrbill at 9:53 AM on October 25, 2005

My understanding is that nowadays, by the time your doctor and insurance will consent to removing your tonsils, you'll be begging them to take them out.
As other posters have mentioned, you need to have several infections a year - for a few years straight - before they'll even talk about it.
So, go the doctor and get checked out! They aren't going to drag you into the OR.
posted by clh at 10:20 AM on October 25, 2005

I had my tonsils removed when I was 31 after several instances of tonsilitis. Yes, it was painful, but like others have said, I've had far fewer colds and rarely a sore throat since.

IMO, it's worth the pain to eliminate the never-ending infections and illness.

Talk to your doctor. Express your concerns and don't discount the thought of surgery.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 10:35 AM on October 25, 2005

Had 'em out about three years ago. It was the worst possible pain, and laid me out for a month (including when the stitches ruptured-- don't have sex until you're recovered-- and left me vomiting blood in the emergency room). Still, now looking back, it was better than dealing with the antibiotics and stabbing pain. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't swallow, I couldn't work. Ugh. Combine that with developing an allergy to penicillin... Go see a doctor. Maybe you won't have to have 'em out, but at least it won't hurt to ask.
posted by klangklangston at 12:04 PM on October 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

I had chronic tonsilitis for years, and was hospitalized for a week or two in high school due to tonsil-related awfulness. MDs lanced my tonsils on several occasions during that time, but they never told me point blank to get them removed.

My throatbags haven't bothered me in years, but they're definitely in a permanent state of swollenness (maybe scar tissue?), and they probably don't do much in the way of protecting me -- or whatever tonsils do -- but I wouldn't ever chop 'em out. They're like little, deformed pals, and we've been through SO much together. Also, I really, really hate surgery.
posted by sluggo at 12:36 PM on October 25, 2005

I had mine out when I was 20 or so. Very painful to swallow. For the first week all I could "eat" was warm salt water -- coldness made my throat constrict and hurt even more. The second week I graduated to warm chicken broth and on to soup by the end of the week.

Which brings me to a most unpleasant observation: For two weeks, I ate no solid food. Didn't realize it at the time, but for two weeks, I didn't poop. Not good. By the end of the two weeks, I had built up the Mother of All Bowel Movements (MoABM), which was, shall we say, painful to release. Gave me a new respect for porn stars.

TMI? Probably, but you might try mixing in some Metamucil or ANYTHING to give your liquid diet some bulk until you can eat properly, or you might end up feeling like Mr. Goatse. Your rectum will thank me.
posted by LordSludge at 1:15 PM on October 25, 2005

Hey, thanks everyone. Just woke up. Things look a little better in the morning. From what people have said here, I may be heading for surgery. I think this is the third bout I've had this year, but never "clicked" that it was tonsillitis as such, just what I call my usual "putrid sore throat". (Smoker). But this time the fever shakes have been a bit hard to ignore. Going to see Dr Dave today, after breakfast - hmm, cornflakes?
posted by Catch at 1:45 PM on October 25, 2005

I was hospitalized three or four times in my early 30s (and once a number of years earlier) and placed on intravenous antibiotics for recurring infections; after finally having my tonsils removed I was astonished at how much better I felt-- I had become accustomed to being ill, and to the effects of near constant low-grade infection.

Whenever I got through a bout of sickness, I would hope (and, in some corner of my mind, expect) that this time it was all over. It never was, and after the last flare up-- which also turned into a hella ear infection-- I went in to have them removed. Even though I had been feeling relatively well before the operation, I woke up to the doctor asking me why on earth I hadn't told them before surgery that my tonsils were infected; it turned out that they were in fact abscessed. I'd just become used to living with the pain.

Also, the long term result of the ear infection was about three years worth of tinnitus, which much to my relief eventually subsided. Just to sum up: I kept hoping that my tonsils would settle down, but the infection because a chronic, life-sapping condition. I would advise thinking seriously about getting rid of them if they are responsible for continual infections.... the operation itself was pretty ugly, but I only felt really dreadful for a few days, and was back at work a week later. Things continued to taste odd and metallic for about six months, but that subsided too. The whole experience was not nearly as bad as having serious strep thoat.

Oh, and you can avoid LordSludge's dilemma by drinking lots of water.
posted by jokeefe at 1:47 PM on October 25, 2005

I had tonsillitis extremely badly about 3 months ago on both sides. I was prescribed a two week course of powerful antibiotics. My doctor said that they don't even start to talk about taking them out until you've had at least 5 bouts requiring antibiotic treatment in a year. Go to the doctor! And in the meantime gargle with Aloe Vera juice if you can find it.
posted by tinamonster at 8:30 PM on October 27, 2005

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