Recovery After Tonsillectomy: What to Expect

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young woman with sore throat, squeezing eyes shut with painful swallowing
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It used to be that just about everyone had their tonsils removed at some point during childhood. This surgery is now less common, but it’s still necessary in many cases, for both children and adults. If you need a tonsillectomy, knowing what recovery is like and preparing for it in advance will make the process smoother. Here are some tonsillectomy recovery tips and what to expect for tonsillectomy recovery time in children and adults.

Tonsillectomy Recovery Time

Although tonsillectomies are often thought of as a child’s surgery, many adults also need this surgical procedure. Recovery for adults can take up to two weeks, even longer in some cases. This is about the same as it is for children, although children do tend to bounce back more quickly than adults.

There will be some pain following the surgery. Most commonly, the pain is in your throat, but you may also feel pain in your jaw or neck for a while as well. One thing that may surprise some people after their surgery is the pain can actually worsen 3 to 4 days after the surgery. This is normal. It is also normal for the pain to be worse in the morning than later in the day.

Your doctor will probably want to see you for a checkup a few weeks after your surgery. Be sure to make an appointment beforehand or before you leave the hospital so that it’s one less thing to think about.

Tonsillectomy Recovery Stages

Recovering from a tonsillectomy comes in stages.

One to 2 days after surgery

The first stage, 1 to 2 days post-op, you will likely feel very tired and have throat pain. You may also notice:

  • Bad breath, which is caused by the scabs left by the surgery

  • Some bleeding

  • A feeling of fullness in your throat, from swelling

  • A raspy voice, difficulty speaking

  • Nausea (from the anesthetic; you may even vomit, but this will pass soon)

It’s important to rest as much as possible, avoid talking, and eat/drink only foods that are easy to swallow, like broths or jello. The general rule of thumb regarding dairy products is to not consume them for at least a day after surgery, but ask your doctor what is best for you. It’s also wise to avoid eating anything with a red dye, like red jello. If you see red when you spit up, you could mistake it for blood.

Three to 5 days after surgery

After the first two days, you may start feeling more pain than earlier. If you do not have a fever and are not showing signs of infection (foul taste in your mouth, feeling of warmth in your throat, increasing bad breath, pus, bleeding), this increase in pain for a couple of days is normal.

Try these strategies for the pain:

  • Apply an ice pack to your neck (wrapped in a cloth, not directly on the skin) to help reduce swelling.

  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.

  • Take pain relievers per your doctor’s instructions and continue to rest.

  • As you begin reintroducing regular foods, they should still be soft and easy to swallow, such as scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes. Avoid anything spicy or acidic for the time being.

Five to 10 days after surgery

You may notice some more mild bleeding at this stage. It takes about 5 to 10 days for the scabs to fall off and when they do, the area can bleed. However, if the blood seems excessive or it’s bright red, meaning it’s fresh blood, go to your closest emergency room or contact your doctor immediately.

At this point, you’ll be more active, but don’t overdo it. Avoid strenuous activities, including lifting heavy objects, until your doctor has given you the go-ahead to resume your normal activities. This could be for up to 14 days.

You should also avoid anything that can irritate your throat, like dust or cigarette smoke. Avoid crowds as much as possible to reduce your chances of getting ill. If you catch a cold or the flu while recovering from a tonsillectomy, recovery from the viral infection can be tougher because of your already sore throat.

After 10 days or so, you should start seeing significant improvement in how you feel and your diet should be close to normal, although you might want to continue avoiding hard, crunchy foods that can scratch your throat.

When to Call Your Doctor

Although complications from tonsillectomies are not common, they can occur as they can with any other surgery. Call 911 if you have any trouble breathing or there is excessive bleeding.

Contact your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any signs of infection, you’re too nauseated to eat or drink, you are vomiting, or your pain worsens or spreads.

Tonsillectomies are very common surgeries and although the first week can be rough, you should see improvement not long after.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jan 20
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.