ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Surgeons at Mayo Clinic are now using a procedure for removing tonsils that results in far easier recovery for patients. It's called coblation tonsillectomy, and compared to the more traditional procedures, patients report less pain, less need for narcotic pain medication and much quicker return to normal diet and activities. Postoperative complications are also reported to be fewer.
"The major point is less pain, quicker recovery," says Ray Gustafson, M.D., Mayo Clinic otorhinolaryngologist. "The recovery from tonsillectomy using standard surgical techniques in the past has been miserable. I'm not saying recovery following coblation tonsillectomy is necessarily easy, but I think the physical and emotional suffering is far less than in the past."
Traditional methods of tonsillectomy include using a scalpel and scissors, which can cause considerable bleeding, or more commonly, electrocautery. Electrocautery utilizes very high temperatures (over 400 degrees Celsius) to destroy tissue and remove the tonsils. Coblation tonsillectomy -- derived from the phrase "cold ablation" -- uses radiofrequency energy and significantly lower temperatures to break down tissue.
"With the generation of less heat, there is less burning of deeper tissues, and that translates into less pain for the patient postoperatively," says Dr. Gustafson. "Less pain means a lesser need for narcotic-strength pain medications, a faster resumption of a normal diet and quicker return to normal activities, all of which are highly desirable."
The tonsils, which are located at the back of the throat, serve as part of the body's immune system, helping to fight off infection. However, infection of the tonsils -- tonsillitis -- can result in a severe sore throat, difficult or painful swallowing, headaches, fevers and chills. Repeated infections may lead to the need for a tonsillectomy. A more likely cause for tonsillectomy is that the tonsils have grown too large and are obstructing a child's airway, resulting in snoring and other breathing or sleep problems. Tonsillectomy is one of the most common childhood surgeries, with approximately 500,000 tonsillectomies performed every year.
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