The History of Tonsil Removal

Long story short: Be glad you don’t live in the 1500s! Luckily, treating tonsillitis has come a long way since the Middle Ages. At both our Mesa and Gilbert Pediatric Urgent Care locations, we can diagnose and treat inflamed and irritated tonsils right away!

Tonsillectomy, or the removal of tonsils, has been performed for thousands of years using many different techniques and instruments. The first documentation of a tonsillectomy shows up in Hindu literature over 3000 years ago. Since that time until now, physicians have routinely removed tonsils in an attempt to treat infection and illness not only in the throat, but also throughout the body.

These days, a tonsillectomy is performed for those who are frequently sick with either tonsillitis or strep throat. The National Institutes of Health suggests that you talk to your doctor about a tonsillectomy if you or your child has more than seven cases of tonsillitis or strep in a year.

Then and Now

The procedure for removing tonsils over the years has changed drastically. At first, doctors simply tried to treat the infected tonsils with ointments or oils that included milk, vinegar, and even frog fat. When these treatments failed to provide a long-term solution, tonsils began to be removed surgically.

In the Middle Ages, tonsils were removed by tying strings of cotton around the base of the tonsil and then tightening those strings every day until the tonsils eventually fell off. While there are some successful accounts of this procedure working, it was eventually abandoned. Beginning in the 1500’s, new tools were invented that allowed doctors to cut the tonsils out using a guillotine type process. These tools continued to be improved upon through the 18th and 19th century.

Up until the end of the 19th century, general surgeons were called upon to perform tonsillectomies. It was at this point when ENT doctors took over based on their experience and expertise in the area. This is also a point in history of tonsil removal where tools such as mouth-gaps and tongue-depressors began to be used on a regular basis to help make the surgery easier to perform for doctors and less stressful for patients.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the ring and guillotine instruments that had been used for so long were abandoned for forceps and scalpels, which resulted in much less bleeding during surgery.

Fun Fact: Interestingly, tonsil surgeries have steadily declined over the last 60 years. In 1959, there were over 1,400,000 tonsillectomies performed in the United States. That number fell to 500,000 in 1979 and only 250,000 in the last decade. It seems that advanced treatment and a better understanding of the causes of tonsillitis has definitely made a difference.

If you suspect that your child is experiencing tonsillitis or has strep throat multiple times a year, bring them in to see one of the Gilbert Pediatric Urgent Care providers at AllKids Urgent Care. Call us if you have any questions at 480-633-1111.

© 2006-2020 by AllKids Urgent Care.

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