Coblation for Tonsillectomy

Tonsils and adenoids are lymph tissues near the throat that filter out germs entering through the nose and throat. If they become infected or enlarged, they may obstruct breathing and make it hard for kids to sleep. When that happens, a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy (removal of the tonsils and adenoids) may be necessary.

One of the most common ways to perform tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies uses heat to cut and cauterize the tissue. The heat causes some injury to surrounding tissue, and can result in a long, painful recovery period. But a procedure available at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital called coblation reduces recovery time and pain.

Coblation, which stands for controlled ablation, involves radiofrequency at a low temperature and uses a saline solution to gently and precisely remove the tissues. As a result, the risk of injury to surrounding tissue is much lower.

Dr. Kristina Rosbe, a pediatric head and neck surgeon at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, frequently uses coblation for tonsillectomies. "I used to counsel children and their parents that they should expect it to take two weeks for life to return to normal — no pain, normal diet, regular activities," she said. "This technique cuts that recovery period in half."

Nearly all pediatricians now screen for snoring and other sleep problems. In many cases, breathing difficulties are the result of enlarged tonsils and adenoids, and surgery may cure the problem. What should parents look for?

"Parents should be concerned if their child has loud snoring, stops breathing in his or her sleep, or seems tired or unable to concentrate throughout the day," Rosbe said.

Trouble sleeping, however, can also be due to other problems, such as allergies. Sleep studies and upper airway endoscopies are some of the techniques UCSF may use to pinpoint the cause.

Parents should talk to their pediatricians if their children have breathing and snoring problems. If enlarged tonsils may be the problem, doctors should consider referring the child to a surgeon who uses coblation. If surgery is recommended, parents can rest easy knowing that coblation will make it possible for their child's life to return to normal as fast as possible, Rosbe said.


Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

1825 Fourth St., Fifth Floor, 5C
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353-2757
Fax: (415) 353-2603

Our Experts

Kristina W. Rosbe
Dr. Kristina W. Rosbe,
head and neck surgeon