So, you went to the doctor with a sore throat. Maybe it’s your third or fourth sore throat in the last couple months. The doctor says, “I think we should take your tonsils out, because they are getting inflamed so often.”
While this surgery is common, it is also scary for those of us who use our voices every day! Whether you are an aspiring singer, a voice student, a hobbyist, or a professional, getting your tonsils removed is worrisome.
You know how important your throat and your soft palette are – and now someone is going in there and removing part of it?
Be calm. Singer and voice teachers are understandably protective of their throats. I’m here to tell you that you can absolutely sing with your tonsils out. It may even improve your voice!
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What Are Tonsils Anyway?
Tonsils are two almond-shaped structures located on either side of the tongue. These unassuming structures sit in a small hollow and are covered by a thin sheet of mucous membrane and muscle. The tonsils continue upwards and meet with the soft palate – an important area of the throat for singing.
Contrary to popular belief, tonsils are important. During childhood, they help you acquire immunity as part of an early warning immune system that tells the body when something foreign has entered the system. Tonsils play a role in developing antibodies throughout early childhood.
Unfortunately, during your teen years the tonsils atrophy and become somewhat useless. They also become prone to harboring low-grade bacterial infections, which can flare up frequently. Often, this results in any sickness turning into a sore throat, as the immune system is weakened.
White debris can also build up due to chronic tonsillitis. This can be controlled manually by cleaning with a Q-tip, but if the debris continues to accumulate, the tonsils are chronically infected.
Finally, the tonsils can become permanently enlarged. They may not even be infected – but they can become so large that they partially touch and obstruct your breathing while you sleep. Yikes!
When any of these conditions are present, the tonsils are often removed. Beyond early childhood they tend to cause more problems than they are worth.
How Do The Tonsils Affect The Singer?
As a teen or young adult, you are just settling into your voice. If you are a male singer, you may have had your voice break. Higher voices are just getting comfortable with their own break.
Having your tonsils out in the middle of all this is scary, but consider this: keeping your tonsils and having them infected or enlarged is even worse for your voice.
Chronic tonsillitis can occur so frequently that it causes stress on the vocal cords. Tonsillitis has been directly responsible for cancelled tours – Blink-182 had to cancel a US tour due to an emergency tonsillectomy.
This is made even worse by chronic stress. Stress is a major trigger for tonsillitis. Performances, auditions, frequent trips to the doctor, frequent rounds of antibiotics… that is stressful!
Enlarged tonsils also have a mechanical impact on the voice. Singers will have trouble achieving a full vocal resonance. Their voice can sound “covered up”. With truly enlarged tonsils, the speaking voice can be affected as well.
All this to say; if your tonsils are enlarged, it is worth taking them out. You only take them out once. When a tonsillectomy is medically necessary and properly done, it is worth doing.
Will I Still Be Able To Sing Without Tonsils?
Yes. You will still be able to sing without tonsils. In fact, with a bit of online singing training, your voice may even be improved by removing your tonsils.
What? Improved? Yes. In fact, this information is not new. Despite the myths and rumors that persist around tonsil surgery, most medical professionals agree that when tonsils are troublesome, they can be taken out without any adverse effect on the voice.
According to the Journal of Laryngology and Otology; “There is really little to say. If they give trouble, take them out. The voice will not be adversely affected and if they are large, resonance and articulation will improve.”
The main concern is that post-op scarring might somehow restrict the movement of the palate. If the surgery is done properly, this will not happen. Tonsil surgery is very routine, so you shouldn’t worry!
The truth is, if your tonsils are giving you trouble, singing is going to be difficult and painful anyways. If your tonsils are enlarged, you may have trouble speaking, singing, and sleeping. That is not worth it.
What Will My Voice Sound Like After Surgery?
Patients have reported all sorts of positive effects of tonsil surgery. First, no more tonsillitis. Less frequent sore throats, easier breathing, easier speaking, easier singing, and better sleep. Those are already huge benefits!
People report that after having tonsils removed there is more room in the back of their throat.
This can make it easier for singers to bring the voice forward in the mouth and on the soft palate.
The voice will often have a brighter quality after surgery. You may notice a greater degree of freedom and less covering of the vocal sound. Some people even say that it is easier to lift the soft palate when it is not weighed down by tonsils.
What Are The Risks Associated With Removing Tonsils?
No medical procedure is 100% risk free. That said, the risks involved in a tonsillectomy are rare and minor. Generally, the operation is routine and completely safe.
The most common risk is bleeding of the tonsil bed. These are the hollows where the tonsils typically rest. This usually occurs in the first week or two after surgery as the scabs heal. This is not typical in most patients, but it can happen. It should not have any permanent effect on the voice.
Some patients develop some sensitivity where their tonsils used to be. This will go away after a few weeks of post-op healing.
As mentioned before, most patients are worried about scar tissue. Surgeons are aware of this concern, and tonsillectomy surgeries have been developed to keep scarring to a bare minimum.
No procedure is risk free, but tonsillectomy is safe. Rest easy.
Should I Get My Tonsils Out Just To Improve My Voice?
After all this, you may be wondering if getting your tonsils out will help you be a better singer. Well, it might. But you should not go out and get your tonsils removed unless this has been recommended by a medical professional.
Surgery (except cosmetic surgery) should only be considered for the appropriate medical reasons after having consulted with a doctor.
The point of this guide was not to encourage everyone to get their tonsils out, but to assuage concerns that removing tonsils will negatively affect the voice. Tonsillectomy is generally safe and can improve the voice.
How Long Will A Tonsillectomy Prevent Me From Singing?
While tonsillectomy can help the voice, you won't be able to sing for a while. After surgery, you need to recover from the removal of the tonsils and the effects that intubation has on your throat.
You will likely have a sore throat for several days immediately following the operation. This is normal and should disappear after a week or less. If pain persists, go see a medical professional.
When you are recovering, take it slow. Rest your voice for around a week. And don't push yourself too hard when you begin singing again. Start with vocal warmups and exercises and go easy on your voice.
After a week or two, you should be completely ready to take on any gig that comes up!
Final Thoughts On Having Your Tonsils Removed As A Singer
Having surgery is daunting. Tonsillectomy for a singer may be especially concerning. I hope this guide cleared up some of your worries.
Tonsillectomies are a relatively safe surgery. If done properly, they will not hinder the voice at all – you may even find your voice opened by the surgery!
Take proper rest after your surgery. Be diligent about warming up your voice before getting back into it.
Most importantly, I am not a medical professional. Consult with a medical professional before getting any surgery. Explain to the doctor that you are a singer and are concerned about your voice. Talk to the surgeon about this as well. They will share the risks and what they will be doing to protect your voice. Good luck, happy singing!