A boy has his tonsils checked.

By the time we hit elementary school, most of us know that tonsils are part of our body. Maybe one of our classmates even needed them removed. But what do they actually do, and why do some people have them taken out?

What are tonsils for?

Tonsils are a pair of soft tissue masses located on either side of the back of the mouth. They are lymphoid tissue and are part of the immune system. They fight infections, particularly those in the throat. In fact, you get a sore throat when you’re ill because they're fighting off the disease. While they are not large, they can still be seen in the back of the throat if you open your mouth wide.

What is tonsillitis?

Tonsils can become enlarged or frequently infected from fighting off disease. Tonsil infections are called tonsillitis. The most common version of tonsillitis is strep throat, but it is not the only one. The main symptom is a sore throat, but children may also experience fevers, headaches, and stomachaches. The tonsils themselves become swollen and inflamed, while the neck’s lymph nodes become enlarged and tender. What your child won’t experience are nasal drainage, a cough, and hoarseness, since those are symptoms of a cold or upper respiratory infection.

Why do people get their tonsils removed?

There are two main reasons for having them taken out: they get too many infections, or they are too large and cause obstruction, snoring, and sometimes sleep apnea. While antibiotics can be effective in combatting infections, in some cases doctors determine that their removal is best for a child. Not only will their removal make your child feel better, but they could also breathe better and sleep better. This surgery could prevent eating problems or growth issues, too.

Will my child be okay if their tonsils are removed?

Otolaryngologist John Kilde, MD

While tonsils are useful in fighting infection, they aren’t necessary. In fact, if your child does get theirs removed, they may actually get sick less.

“As with any surgery, the risks and benefits need to be weighed carefully,” CEENTA ENT doctor John Kilde, MD, said. “For some kids – and some adults – a tonsillectomy can lead to greatly improved health and quality of life.”

If you are concerned about your child’s tonsils, know that you can schedule an appointment at CEENTA.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician. Dr. Kilde practices in our Albemarle office. To make an appointment with him or any of our ENT doctors, call 704-295-3000. You can also schedule an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.


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