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Tonsillectomy may cause altered tongue sensation in adult patients

  • A Smithard (a1), C Cullen (a1), A S Thirlwall (a1) and C Aldren (a1)



To determine the frequency of altered tongue sensation following tonsillectomy, and its relationship to different surgical techniques.


Case–control study.


District general hospital.


One hundred and four consecutive adults undergoing tonsillectomy, and 43 control patients.

Main outcome measures:

Altered tongue sensation.


Twenty-eight of 100 patients described altered tongue sensation post-tonsillectomy. No patients in the control group experienced altered tongue sensation. There was a difference in rates of altered sensation between tonsillectomy patient groups undergoing bipolar diathermy and ‘cold steel’ techniques (p < 0.019). Three months after surgery, 22/23 contactable patients reported complete recovery of tongue sensation. One patient experienced tongue paraesthesia persisting until one year post-tonsillectomy.


Tonsillectomy resulted in altered tongue sensation in 28 per cent of our study group. Bipolar diathermy dissection was significantly more likely to cause altered sensation than cold steel dissection. Ninety-six per cent of these disturbances resolved by three months, all by one year. Possible alteration of tongue sensation should be discussed whilst obtaining consent for tonsillectomy.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Miss A Smithard, 24d New High Street, Headington, Oxford OX3 7AQ, UK. Fax: 01753 633075 E-mail:


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