Tonsils: why are we no longer operating?

Barriers against infections, the tonsils are however not essential, which has long justified their removal. ┬ęShutterstock

The removal of the tonsils was an almost systematic operation a few years ago to treat repeated infections and angina. Much less common, it is now carried out on a case-by-year basis, in particular thanks to the development of medical therapies. Thus, approximately 35,000 tonsillectomies are now performed per year on minors, compared to 68,000, i.e. almost twice as many, in 2012.

What are the tonsils for?

You can spot them when a person yawns at the crows. These are two glandular masses located on either side of the uvula of the throat, below the palate. If you don’t always think about it, the tonsils have an essential role in protecting the body. They are indeed a protective barrier against bacterial infections and in particular angina.

When do they become a problem?

In the front line against bacteria, the tonsils are thus particularly exposed to them. Caught in their own traps, they can therefore become infected more easily and become swollen, red and painful. As a result, sore throats, particularly intense when swallowing, or even fever. These symptoms can also be those of bacterial angina, or even an abscess. A medical consultation is therefore necessary to establish an accurate diagnosis.

Tonsils: the operation is still recommended in certain cases

Tonsillectomy, a less common operation

The removal of the tonsils was for several years a common operation in the event of angina of bacterial origin (streptococcal). From now on, this strep throat is better and better treated. This definitive surgical operation is therefore less indicated. However, it remains necessary in certain situations involving risks to the patient’s health.

In which cases are the tonsils operated?

Although they are less frequent, tonsillectomies remain indicated in cases of recurrent bacterial tonsillitis (more than five per year), or recurrent infections (chronic tonsillitis). But in the majority of cases, this treatment occurs when the glands become too large and obstructive, thus hampering breathing. As a result, respiratory problems, snoring or even sleep apnea. However, surgery is considered on a case-by-case basis.


Although the tonsils play an important protective role against bacteria, removing them usually has no effect on the body’s ability to manage and clear infections. Bleeding complications following surgery are possible, but remain rare.

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