Medical Q&As

Tonsillectomy - vocal chord risk?

My 15-year-old son suffers frequently from tonsillitis. His GP is in the process of referring him for a tonsillectomy. My sonís greatest passion in life is singing and he hopes to make a career from it. He is anxious to know if there is any chance of damage to his vocal chords during the operation?

There is no risk to your sonís vocal chords from undergoing a tonsillectomy. If your son opens his mouth wide and looks at his own throat the two tonsils will appear as two strawberry-like structures at the beginning of his throat. They are located on either side of the tongue at the base of the arch that forms the soft palate. Many people think that the small piece of flesh dangling in the midline from the soft palate is related to the tonsils but this is in fact a completely unrelated structure known as the uvula. During the tonsillectomy the tonsils are removed but the surrounding structures are left intact. During the operation a special tube is passed down the throat in order to maintain a supply of oxygen and anaesthetic gasses to the lungs. This tube is passed through the vocal chords and is known as an endotracheal tube. This will not harm your sonís vocal chords but he may experience some slight soreness in that area of his throat for a day or so after the operation. In addition he will experience soreness as a result of the removal of the tonsils but the pain in both areas should subside with the benefit of painkillers. His speech may sound a little thick for a couple of days after the operation and he should not allow himself to be frightened by this. This is simply due to the inflammation that is caused by the surgery itself. It is also important that he refrain from attempting to sing for a few days after returning home from hospital. He should return to singing by warming up gradually and refrain from straining his voice. It is also very important that he drinks plenty of water during his singing exercises in order to ensure that his throat is well hydrated. He should not test his voice by pushing to the limits of loudness and pitch. Essentially he should compare himself to a high performance athlete that gradually warms up and stretches before resuming training after a lay off period.