Home > Lifestyle & Your Throat. > Why You Need Your Tonsils

Why You Need Your Tonsils

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 20 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Tonsils Tonsillitis Immune System Glands

If you tend to suffer with tonsillitis after a cold, or each winter, you may wonder why you have tonsils in the first place. Are they like the appendix, vestigial structures that now causes us more harm than good? The evidence is that tonsils are not in the same league as the appendix. Tonsils are an active part of the immune system and when they become enlarged and swollen, often it’s because they are doing the job they are supposed to do.

What are Tonsils?

Tonsils are glands, tissues that contain a concentration of immune cells. The tonsils are at the back of the throat and so are ideally placed to trap and deal with infectious agents that are breathed in – usually bacteria and viruses. Tonsils contain lymphatic tissue, which is basically the white cells that carry out the function of the immune system, trapped in a fibrous net. When bacteria or viruses infect the lymphatic tissue, they are taken into the white blood cells, which then prime the rest of the immune system to fight off the infection.

Why are Tonsils Useful?

Without this important first barrier to help fight off bacteria and viruses that are breathed in, the body is open to a lot more infections deep inside the lungs or inside other parts of the body. If the tonsils become swollen, that is not as bad as the lungs becoming inflamed. Healthy tonsils that work well help us to resist infections and to get better quicker when we do get a cold or a cough.

Why Have Tonsils Out?

Tonsils are relatively easy to remove as they are so visible at the back of the throat. They can get very sore if you get a lot of infections and, after World War II, doctors started taking tonsils out as a matter of course. They thought that by taking the tonsils out, they would be preventing a lot of problems with infections. Now, research has shown that only a few people actually need to have their tonsils removed. If you are troubled with regular tonsillitis, and you never seem to recover, or your tonsils become so swollen that they start to affect your breathing, a tonsillectomy is still considered the best option.

If you can hang on to your tonsils after your teenage years, you will probably find that they become less troublesome. Tonsils are more active in childhood and they tend to shrink as we become adults.

What are Bad Reasons for Having Tonsils Out?

Your parents or grandparents may have had their tonsils out and urge you to have the same operation, but following family advice is not a good enough reason for a tonsillectomy. Nor is the idea that you can avoid tonsillitis if you have never had it. You may get it at some point, but isolated infections are not a good reason for a tonsillectomy.

You may consider an operation to remove your tonsils if you have bad breath but it is wise to check out what else could be causing this before going to such drastic lengths.

What Happens During a Tonsillectomy?

If you do need your tonsils out, the operation to remove the tonsils is a routine surgical procedure that usually only involves one night in hospital. A general anaesthetic is usually necessary and the surgeon operates through the mouth, using a very sharp and specially shaped blade to remove each tonsil. It is important to limit the bleeding and stitches that later dissolve are used to close the incision. Other techniques are also used today – including lasers, ultrasound and diathermy. This cuts away the tonsils using heat generated by an electric current and has the advantage that the heat seals the blood vessels as the incision is made, reducing blood loss to a minimum.

After you have your tonsils removed, your throat is quite sore. Over the counter pain relief is normal to help the pain and you will probably get a course of antibiotics. It’s a good idea not to go out and risk catching an infection just after your tonsils have been removed, so that your immune system has chance to build up its reserves without the tonsils.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • Hel89
    Re: Stress and Losing Your Voice
    @Tiffers - I get that too. My OH always says 'why are you going high-pitched?' You just have to control it - in a way it's good…
    18 June 2018
  • Tiffers
    Re: Stress and Losing Your Voice
    I am a pretty stressed out person and I worry over everything. When I am expressing my feelings whether I be angry or sad or just…
    16 June 2018
  • Hope
    Re: Stress and Losing Your Voice
    I lost my voice after I was arrested by police. I think it was from severe shock, and trauma. I was able to speak again once I…
    16 June 2018
  • Sonu
    Re: What is the Adam's Apple?
    I have voice related problem while excessive speaking.While speaking saliva comes and voice hoarse.Then I swallow it.I have problem in…
    14 June 2018
  • KateN
    Re: Losing Your Voice
    @Bryan - it sounds like functional dysphonia where a man completely lost his voice for a while. I read an article about it in the Guardian, a…
    1 June 2018
  • ThroatProblems
    Re: The Role of an ENT Specialist
    JoJo - Your Question:Hi approx 3.5 years ago just started very randomly started accumulating blood blood in my throat making me…
    31 May 2018
  • Bryan
    Re: Losing Your Voice
    I have had problems with my voice for several month now, somedays it works but very hoarse and other days specially in the mornings it doesnt…
    31 May 2018
  • JoJo
    Re: The Role of an ENT Specialist
    Hi approx 3.5 years ago just started very randomly started accumulating blood blood in my throat making me spit out and freak…
    30 May 2018
  • shabu
    Re: Ulcers In The Throat
    I'm having throat ulcer again and again I went to ent but they said it's normal I'm having problem with swalloing and pain in my left ear.…
    28 May 2018
  • Shiny
    Re: Ulcers In The Throat
    I have throat ulcer doctor said it is because of viral infection i have sore throat too but no difficulty in swallowing but still i afraid of…
    22 May 2018
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the ThroatProblems website. Please read our Disclaimer.