Ear Pain After Tonsillectomy

After tonsillectomy surgery, patients have plenty of unpleasant side effects to deal with.  Swelling of the uvula, tongue, and throat are usually the first hurdle adults have to deal with post tonsillectomy. Swallowing and breathing can be difficult.  This isn’t too surprising, especially considering all that the throat has been through.  Icing and gargling with ice water can help reduce this swelling, as can a steroidal treatment. The next problem after tonsillectomy, usually a day or so post-op, is pain in the throat area.  Again, no big surprise.  Icing is also a good way to treat, as are narcotic pain killers and/or over the counter pain medications.  Topical analgesics like throat sprays can also offer some relief.

What surprises many is a phenomena occurring several days into their tonsillectomy recovery- ear pain.

Post Tonsillectomy Ear Pain – Cause and Treatment


Literally thousands of patients sharing their experiences on this website have commented that their ears hurt after tonsillectomy.  Ear pain after tonsillectomy is probably the second or third most common side effect that patients experience- second only to pain and swelling.  But why does this happen? There was no scalpel or hot knife near the ears, so why should they feel like they’re being stabbed?  The cause of ear pain post tonsillectomy starts at the throat and radiates to the ears.  This is called a referred pain. Take a look at the attached diagram and note the lingual nerve.  It’s directly connected to the ears and throat.

Ear Pain After Tonsillectomy- a diagram

Ear Pain After Tonsillectomy- What’s Going on?

Treatments and Home Remedies

This referred pain can be quite severe. Often prescribed pain medications do not seem to relieve the ear pain that many experience after tonsillectomy. In addition to the pain medicines patients are taking, there are two home remedies that usually can provide some relief. The first of which is chewing gum. In light of the unpleasant side effect of have sugary residue in and around the throat, most tonsillectomy patients prefer a sugar -free gum. A mint flavor can also feel cooling. Exactly why chewing gum relieves ear pain is hard to say. Certainly activating the muscles around the ears and jaw may help, but more likely, like yawning, gum chewing releases pressure from the ear area.

The second remedy for ear pain after tonsillectomy is applying a heating pad or warm compress to the affected area. Again, the reason for its effectiveness is not entirely clear but most patients describe a relaxing comfort from applying a wet, warm towel or electric heating pad to the affected area. To reduce inflammation, alternate between warm and cold compresses.


Have you found a trick for taking the edge off of ear pain, especially after tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy? Please share it in the comments section below. Thank you!

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75 Comments on "Ear Pain After Tonsillectomy"

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Today 4:23 am

I had my tonsillectony to days ago and my ears are killing me

May 17, 2016 5:49 pm

I had my tonsillectomy a week ago tomorrow. I’m 47 and had it due to tonsill asymmetry found at an unrelated visit. Since the asymmetric tonsil can mean lymphoma I was scheduled for surgery ASAP.
I printed out all of the tips etc…that I could to help myself get through this. It helped tremendously, but my ear pain is excruciating !!! I thought I was doing well, but about 5 days in ears really started this deep burning pain. I literally have to hold my hands over my ears. It mostly happens after I eat or drink anything too cold.
I feel like a big baby because some people seem to think I should be out and about and be pretty much healed already. ????
Also my scabs are falling off already and now it hurts to talk. Ugh!!

May 10, 2016 11:52 am

I found that using a hot corn bag on my ear/throat helped tremendously. I also had the same problem of the pain coming back upon eating or drinking. This surgery/process has by far been the worst pain I have ever felt. I am on day 12 and I can finally say things are slowly looking up! Good luck to all!

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