Tonsillectomy Adult – What to Expect

Tonsillectomy as an adult is quite different than tonsillectomy for children. The methods employed for tonsillectomy in adults and children are generally the same, (See Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy Methods page), and the risks for adults are similar to the risks for children, (See The Tonsillectomy Risks

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Tonsillectomy – Adult Recovery and Risks

Most studies indicate a two to four percent risk of delayed hemorrhage [severe bleeding]. Where tonsillectomy in adults differs most from tonsillectomy in children is in the recovery. Recovery from childhood tonsillectomy generally takes five to seven days. Recovery from  tonsillectomy in adults usually requires at least ten days and more often two weeks.

Before deciding to get an adult tonsillectomy, it’s important to choose a time frame in which you have the time and the support. Recovering over your favorite Holiday might be a good choice in terms of time, (eg holiday leave from work or school), but it may not be a time that people will be available to help you.
The pain associated with adult tonsillectomy recovery, by almost all accounts, is more intense than that experienced by children. Some theorize that children haven’t had as much time without pain as adults and thus their frame of reference is different than adult tonsillectomy patients. Others assume that children may be less able to articulate their discomfort. Having read the accounts of THOUSANDS of adult tonsillectomies in the forum,(See Tonsillectomy Forum page), I can say with some confidence that generally, the younger the patient, the easier the tonsillectomy recovery. There are of course exceptions. I’ve read from many middle aged adults who had a fairly smooth recovery. Perhaps they read up on this website and prepared well. Perhaps they had good genes.  In any case, many time an adult tonsillectomy recovery is better than the horror stories we hear about.

Tonsillectomy Adult
Tonsillectomy in Adults

“If I could recommend one item to buy before tonsillectomy, it would be a humidifier. My readers know how important moist air is to a healing throat. I bought one of these years ago and still use it daily” -Greg

I’d like to take a moment here to make a suggestion. As you read through the people’s accounts in the various chat rooms, message boards, and adult tonsillectomy forums, consider this: People having a harder time, may be more prone to seek out information and share their experience in these venues. Adults experiencing milder tonsillectomy recoveries, might be less apt to be posting. I don’t want to drag Richard Nixon into my website, but this silent majority may be quietly recovering and you’ll never hear from them.
My advice is to research as much as you can, talk with your doctor, talk with your family and friends, and talk with your employer before scheduling your adult tonsillectomy. I wish you all the best.

I’ve put together a collection of items that I think would be helpful, if not essential, to making tonsillectomy recovery a little more pleasant. Check out the Tonsillectomy General Store.

502 thoughts on “Tonsillectomy in Adults

  1. Hey guys! My tonsillectomy was on 12/20/17. I am 22 years old and my tonsils have been a problem since I was a kid. I used to get strep all the time before high school, and my tonsils were really big and had lots of crypts. These past couple years, I would get tonsillitis/tonsil stones (gross!!) a lot. In November I had a bad case of tonsillitis and decided I wanted them out ASAP! I wanted to share my experience for those of you who are doing research before the surgery or are recovering now and may be nervous (I was so nervous of bleeding out or just the pain in general). I read so many horror stories before that gave me a lot of anxiety, but they also helped prepare me for the recovery process.

    Overall, I would say I had a good recovery. I experienced no bleeding, no pain when the scabs fell off, and only a few times of major pain. The painful times were rare, and happened when my mouth dried out at night. Eating was kind of weird at first, but you get used to it. I also threw up on the night of day 2 because of the general anesthesia. I felt way better after though.


    1. Everyone says this, and it’s true…ICE ICE ICE!! DRINK as much water as you can! I ALWAYS was drinking ice cold water or had ice chips in my mouth.
    2. Ice bag around your neck helps so much and feels really good during the first week!
    3. EAT!! Seriously. I was really confused about which diet to follow, as the US differs from what they recommend in the UK. Eat as normal as possible starting from day 1. I ate LOTS of bread, broth, applesauce, pasta, Mac & cheese, bread dipped in soup, (cut up burger on day 4…so good), cooked asparagus, etc. I just avoided super sharp/crunchy foods like chips and popcorn. I think eating as much as I could really helped my recovery speed up. I read that just the act of swallowing helps your throat recover, so I wasn’t timid with eating/drinking at all.
    4. EAT before taking your pain meds. This is SO important. If you’re taking pain meds on an empty stomach, I promise it will hurt way worse than your throat. You need to coat your stomach lining with food before you take pills. Even if it’s just applesauce that you can get down!
    5. Sleeping was the main struggle for me. I would set alarms some times to wake up and take the pills, or just try to get as much sleep as possible to rest. Just know that waking up after sleep will hurt because your throat is so dry, but after 15-20 minutes of ice pack/cold water/pain meds you should feel fine.
    6. It gets better!! The moments of nausea and pain will end. I promise. I pulled on all nighter out of fear of my throat drying out and felt like I was going crazy.
    7. Forgot about this one.. starting at day 3 I would have 1-2 glasses of green tea (Luke warm) with honey in it. This really soothed my throat.

    My Recovery Day by Day:
    (Day of surgery counting as 0)
    Days 1-5: pain stayed around a 3-4 and a 2 when on the medication. Really not bad at all.
    Days 6 & 7: pain was around a 3-4 as well, but a 5-6 when eating. The night of day 6 was the worst for me because I fell asleep and missed a medicine dose. Woke up in sooo much pain in my ears and throat. Took about 20 minutes of constant ice chips and waiting for the meds to set in to bring it down to a 3.
    After day 8: pain around a 2-3 at most. I stopped taking my pain meds on day 8 because I hated how they made me feel. (Hadn’t gone to the bathroom in a week…..I just drank 3 full glasses of PRUNE juice and that worked).
    Day 11: Feeling back to normal. Still some scabbing where the tonsils used to be.

    Now I’m on day 16, I feel great!! My scabs are all gone and my uvula finally looks normal. My mouth was pretty swollen for the first week. If you have tonsil issues, I would really recommend going through with a tonsillectomy. This was just my personal experience, I know some people go through really bad recovery experiences…I feel so thankful. I know that age and many other factors lead us all to going through different recoveries. I hope my tips can help someone! Just remember how common this surgery is, and that the odds of bleeding out are rare. Goodluck!!

  2. Sorry, I meant updating my post from 12/24, not 12/20. Surgery was on 12/20

  3. Updating my post from Dec 20…
    Days 1-4 we’re nothing compared to the pain I felt on days 5-8. It was terrible. The pain was everywhere. In my throat, in my jaw, my teeth, the back of my tongue and oh, don’t even let me start on the ears. Never experienced such pain.
    The nights were the worst. Humidifier didn’t do much. My throat and mouth was so dry and just burning. Day 9, I can honestly say that my pain went from a 10 to a 4-5 and today on day 10, I finally feel a lot better. Still tough to eat, still taking Tylenol, but overall, so much better. Today my pain is at a 2-3. I added a second humidifier and it might’ve helped as my night was much better.
    What a tough recovery. Still not 100% but I can finally say the worst is over.
    Still feel it was worth it not to have those terrible tonsil stones.

  4. I am on day 14 of surgery tonsillectomy and deviated septum and something with my pallet. None the less it been a roller coaster haven’t been able to eat regular food and today the swelling feels so different I don’t know if something is wrong or just how the process works. Gagging more today swelling feels more toward the back of my throat. Is this normal? Can anyone comment? I tend to panic a little any thoughts may help.

    1. Sounds very typical to me Christina. Hang in there. It’s temporary.

  5. I’m a 19 year old female and I had my tonsils removed on dec 12th, I’m on day 13 post tonsillectomy. Yes, it is the most awful surgery I have ever gone through. Absolute downright miserable agony. But, if you had the surgery done, there was a reason your doctor outweighed the pain under the benefits you’ll receive so just like everyone else, I’ll hold on for those benefits. I had an awful surgery, awful recovery, and spent 5 days in the hospital from an infection. Day one I woke up from surgery in agony, talking was barely a thing and forget about swallowing. Since I was under general anesthetic sleeping, my doctor didn’t feel the need to numb my throat locally like some doctors do, so I definitely felt all the pain when I woke. My doctors gave me fentanyl when I woke up bawling my eyes out begging for the pain to stop and I fell asleep for about 30 minutes. Awoke again, and the pain was back full bore. I was released within another hour and went home. My boyfriend went and picked up all of my medications (zofran for nausea, amoxicillin pills for infection, and Percocet pills- armed with a second prescription for 80 pills.) make sure your doctor writes you two separate pain med scripts rather than one larger one. If you have one large one, say for 160-180 pills, a lot of the pharmacies will claim they don’t have the full amount and will only give you half the script amount and then your script is useless and you have to fight your doctor and pharmacy to give you another one. Get two scripts, fill one, wait a couple days, and fill the other. I promise it’s the best way. I got home, and my ears were in so much pain like a double ear infection and my throat felt like I had swallowed a sword wrapped in sand paper that was also on fire. I couldn’t swallow whatsoever. I tried and I had to hype myself up for the pain for about 15 seconds before I could force myself to swallow one sip of water which was absolute misery. I was in the hospital by the end of the night. I have a bladder disease and if I don’t drink about 8-10 bottles of water a day, my bladder feels like it’s on fire and within a day of it being inflamed I get a UTI and within another day it’s in my kidneys. So I went to the hospital and was given IV fluids, and sent home with liquid hydrocet (hydrocodone-acetaminophen), liquid amoxicillin, and magic mouthwash (a mouthwash you gargle and swallow which numbs anything it touches). The mouthwash worked a little but barely touched the pain of swallowing. And the pain med, not CVS, Publix, Winn dixie, or Walgreens would fill. They said they didn’t have it. Only Walmart filled the script so hopefully that saves other people from driving everywhere like my boyfriend did. I was able to sip small amounts of my pain med but still no water or antibiotics because it was so thick I just choked and it wouldn’t go down my throat. Day 2 I still couldn’t swallow so I went back to the hospital. My ER doc didn’t seem to understand or believe the pain of a tonsillectomy and I was back on my bladder pain from lack of water. He gave me an IV for fluids, then sprayed my throat with something called “hurricaine spray”. Do not do this. Refuse this. Imagine taking NyQuil, putting it in a high pressure jet spray can, and spraying it onto a freshly burned surgical site. I left the ER in more pain than when I got there. Got home, still couldn’t swallow, went back to the ER that same night and was admitted by a doc that understood how bad the pain was. I refuse opioid pain meds whenever I can and only take them when my pain is 10/10. But, my doctor gave me fentanyl when she admitted me because she knew once I got upstairs the pain meds wouldn’t work nearly as well. This was the first sleep I got in the two days since surgery. I spent 5 days in the hospital on iv fluids, iv morphine, an iv steroid (which worked AMAZING) and iv antibiotics. Since I didn’t get the antibiotics down for two days I developed an infection so I had to deal with that on top of pain. Around day 3 in the hospital I was able to stop the morphine and drink the liquid hydrocet. They wanted to keep me longer but by the time Sunday came around I wanted to leave so they said I could. I went home able to swallow water and my pain med, so recovery after this point was much easier. I went back to work on day 7, which was my one regret. Do not force yourself to go back to work until you’re ready. I can’t stress this enough. I work in a restaurant so I’m constantly talking loudly over other people. Taking orders and cashiering requires a lot of talking and my recovery definitely hiccuped once I had to work again. After about 3 hours my voice was strained and Painful and I worked a 7 hour shift. I went home and sat in the shower for an hour recovering. The next day was better at work and I slowly got stronger. Now I’m on day 13 and yes I’m still in about 6/10 pain when I’m between my pain med doses. Yes it still hurts. My scabs are almost gone and I still have a little white in my throat but mostly pink with the two gaping holes on each side. Here’s my tips: get two separate pain scripts, buy a humidifier because that keeps your throat moist at night (they’re $15 at Walmart), buy ice pops (I bought the pedialyte ones for electrolytes but they made my throat mucusy so I stuck with the normal ones), wake up throughout the night to take your pain med or you’ll be in agony when you wake up, put a heating pad on your ears for pain-they will hurt badly, put an ice pack on your neck/throat, buy the small crushed ice- sonic sells 5# bags for $2- because it’s easy to chew or suck on, and force yourself to eat as soon as you can. I didn’t eat until day 9 and I lost 10 pounds. Yes eating hurts. The best foods I found were spaghetti O’s, chicken and stars, and mashed potatoes with no skins and mix chicken broth in to make them thin and runnier to swallow. Constantly sip cold water, don’t wait until you’re thirsty. This recovery absolutely sucks. I didn’t believe anyone when I read all these things where women said they’d rather have a second c section. It is 10/10 pain the first week+, and I’ve had an appendectomy, reconstructive knee surgery, and exploratory abdominal surgery. This pain tops everything. But you will get through it even when it feels like it’ll never end.

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