Tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy (often abbreviated T&A) is a surgical procedure to remove the tonsils with/without adenoids, which are lymphoid tissues encircling the posterior oropharynx.

Tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy
Anesthesia type General
Airway ETT, consider oral RAE
Lines and access PIV
Monitors Standard ASA monitors 5-lead EKG if needed
Primary anesthetic considerations
Preoperative Assess OSA severity if present Consider distraction methods instead of anxiolytics if severe OSA
Intraoperative Mask induction if no PIV

Shared airway with surgeon Lower FiO2 to reduce risk of airway fire Emerge after complete hemostasis is achieved Protect airway from blood/secretions

Increased incidence of laryngospasm
Postoperative High risk of postoperative respiratory complications

OSA precautions

PONV prophylaxis

Indications for T&As include 1) recurrent throat infections, 2) obstructive sleep-disordered breathing[1]. While infections used to be the most common indication in the past, the majority of tonsillectomies are now being performed for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Tonsillectomies are the second most common ambulatory surgery performed in children under 15 years old in the United States[2].

Preoperative management

Patient evaluation

System Considerations
  • OSA is the most common indication for T&As. Polysomnography (sleep study) is useful to assess for severity of OSA. For patients without a polysomnography, ask about snoring and apnea; other symptoms may include excessive daytime sleepiness, inattention, poor concentration, or hyperactivity.
  • Patients often have a history of frequent URIs which may affect the optimal timing of an elective surgery.
  • Assess for history of bleeding tendencies or easy bruising, given the risk of postoperative hemorrhage.

Labs and studies

  • The American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery recommends referring the following children with obstructive sleep-disordered breathing for polysomnography pre-operatively if:
    1. The child is <2 years of age, or
    2. The child exhibits any of the following: obesity, Down syndrome, craniofacial abnormalities, neuromuscular disorders, sickle cell disease, or mucopolysaccharidoses[1].

Operating room setup

  • Consider a cuffed oral RAE ETT or wire-reinforced ETT
  • Accordion

Patient preparation and premedication

  • Consider distraction methods (toys, videos, tablet computers, games, parental presence if deemed appropriate) as opposed to anxiolytics in children with severe OSA
  • If giving preoperative anxiolytics, consider continuous pulse oximetry monitoring for children with OSA
  • Consider preoperative albuterol treatment for patients with recent URI <2 weeks ago or moderate-severe OSA

Regional and neuraxial techniques

  • Local anesthesia is controversial and not preferred (risk of significant complications associated with local infiltration)

Intraoperative management

Monitoring and access

  • Standard ASA monitors
  • 5-lead EKG if needed
  • PIV, often will have to be done post-induction in children

Induction and airway management

  • Mask induction if no PIV
  • Intubation with cuffed ETT - consider oral RAE or wire-reinforced ETT
    • If in-between sizes for oral RAE, consider larger size given the risk of extubation with neck extension during surgery
  • Deep intubation vs paralysis
    • T&As are generally short procedures (30 min - 1 hour)
    • Consider using a low dose of NDMB or succinylcholine if opting to paralyze for intubation to allow for reversal at the end of the case


  • Supine with neck extended
    • Increased risk of accidental extubation with neck extension
  • Table is usually turned 90 degrees

Maintenance and surgical considerations

  • Maintain with sevoflurane
  • Lower FiO2 to lowest possible to reduce risk of airway fire
  • Consider higher volume hydration (if tolerated) to prevent PONV


  • Administer PONV prophylaxis
    • Single-dose IV decadron at the beginning of the case
    • Strongly consider a second agent for PONV prophylaxis, such as ondansetron
  • Emerge only after the surgeon has achieved hemostasis
  • Thoroughly suction the oropharynx prior to emergence to remove blood and secretions, as children who undergo tonsillectomy are at increased risk of laryngospasm and airway reactivity
  • Extubate awake for patients with severe OSA

Postoperative management


  • Consider arranging for overnight, inpatient postoperative monitoring for:
    1. Patients <3 years old, or
    2. Patients with severe OSA (AHI ≥10 obstructive events/hour, oxygen saturation nadir <80%, or both)[1].

Pain management

  • Multimodal pain control is strongly preferred, given that children with OSA are more susceptible to the respiratory depressant effects of opioids
    • Nonopioids
      • Decadron
      • IV acetaminophen (usually 15mg/kg for patients above age 2, 10mg/kg for children below 2 years old)
      • Dexmedetomidine
      • IV NSAIDs are controversial because of the risk of tonsillar bleeding
      • Consider low-dose ketamine as an opioid-sparing agent in patients with severe OSA; however it may also increase postoperative agitation and secretions
    • Opioids
      • Consider reducing opioid doses by 50% for children with OSA

Potential complications

  • High risk of postoperative pulmonary complications
  • Risk of postoperative hemorrhage

Procedure variants

Variant 1 Variant 2
Unique considerations
Surgical time
Postoperative disposition
Pain management
Potential complications


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Mitchell, Ron B.; Archer, Sanford M.; Ishman, Stacey L.; Rosenfeld, Richard M.; Coles, Sarah; Finestone, Sandra A.; Friedman, Norman R.; Giordano, Terri; Hildrew, Douglas M.; Kim, Tae W.; Lloyd, Robin M. (2019-02-01). "Clinical Practice Guideline: Tonsillectomy in Children (Update)". Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery. 160 (1_suppl): S1–S42. doi:10.1177/0194599818801757. ISSN 0194-5998.
  2. "Ambulatory surgery in the United States, 2006". Retrieved 2021-05-16.