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 occuring several days into their tonsillectomy recovery- ear pain.

Ear Pain After Tonsillectomy- Cause and Treatment


Literally thousands of patients sharing their experiences on this website have commented on this unpleasant side effect.  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!

17 thoughts on “Ear Pain After Tonsillectomy

  1. Flo

    I just discovered something. I’m having constant ear pain. Covering the ears really helps. I’ve never been a person to wear ear coverings, but it works. I’m wearing those that look like a headband. They make them for men, too. The fleece ones seem to be the best.

  2. Angel

    Dealing with post-tonsillectomy EAR PAIN!

    Since this has been the worst pain and yet surprisingly easy to remedy for me, I thought I would share my experience, as my treatment has not been mentioned much on different forums I’ve researched. I hope this helps save some folks from the intense ear pain!

    I suffered from intense shooting, stabbing ear pains for three years before having my tonsils removed. In hindsight, I wish I would have known about the referred ear pain, because I probably would have realized my ears were hurting due to my tonsils and their cryptic party friends!

    On day 3/4 when the first twinge of pain released in my ears, I had a ceiling fan going in the living room. The breeze from it, combined with the pain for swallowing socked me so hard in the ear that I yelped and grabbed my ear! As a child, my mom always put “sweet oil” or mineral oil in our ears when they ached. So, in a desperate hurry, I found mineral oil and a dropper.

    You can buy sweet oil at a pharmacy. I found I had to ask them for it and it was behind the counter. Or, you can use mineral oil found in the laxatives section, and I even read one post of using olive oil. The sweet oil comes in a bottle with a medicine dropper, so it is more convenient, however, I was desperate and had two pharmacy techs just give me medicine droppers for free to go with the mineral oil.

    The key is you need the oil to be warm so it can soothe the tissue in the ear. DONT heat the oil– heat a small bowl of water and place the jar or small cup of oil down in the water to warm it. Get some cotton balls. Pull off a small piece that will fit in your ear and twist it kind of like a wick to fit down into your ear. Lean your head so you can drop the oil into the ear canal until you can hear/feel that it is full. Move your ear around to loosen any air bubbles. Hold your nose and swallow (if you can tolerate it) to release any excess air in your ear to allow the oil to settle. Push the cotton wick in until it soaks up and expands down in your ear. Cap it off with an additional larger piece of cotton to ward off breezes or air flow. Do this in both ears. When you need to add oil, simply take off the cap cotton, add more warm oil to the wick already in your ear, and the oil will follow it down into your ear! This is my mom’s way of describing what her doctor told her to do years ago during a terrible ear infection.

    He reasoning is this, and it only makes sense: the ear tissue is irritated and dry, is being expanded and contracted by the swelling in the throat. When those irritated tissues move from swallowing, ear pressure, air flow, crying, etc., they rub against each other causing agony! Lubricating the tissues with the sweet oil allows them to not only be soothed, but to move freely against one another when you chew, swallow, etc. those nerve endings need relief too!

    Of course, after a day or two and after showering, you’ll need to replace your wicks for new ones. But this has been the best thing for me. If I remove one just to listen for even a little while, the intense ear and throat pain returns In a few minutes, especially if the fan is on! This has even soothed the intense pain right after waking up when I sip a drink of too cold water!

    I also applied heat packs to my ears and cold packs to my throat, but trust me when I tell you, the oil in my ears has made a HUGE DIFFERENCE! I have been able to eat well for the most part because when I chew, air bubbles aren’t moving in and out of my ears and the tissue isn’t rubbing on itself.

    Please try and let me know if this works for you! I think this is a very valuable piece of information, as I have seen SO many people tormented by the ear pain, especially when the scabs start coming off! I welcome any questions, as I am only on day 9 of recovery and still can’t sleep well. I find reading and posting and sharing with others going through this ordeal is more helpful than watching mindless tv all day!

    Questions, comments, I am willing to help anyone after how bad I know my ears have felt! Angel

    1. Nicole

      Look at an anatomy book! Placing oil in the ear will not “lubricate anything that would be “rubbing together”! There is a reason this was an OLD home remedy!modern medicine has seen many harmful results from the old warm oil in the ear! It is a breeding ground for bacteria! Especially with a wick that is left in place for days!!! OMG!
      I know the pain is severe. I gave my daughter a set of earplugs. Think thatt will ease it some.

  3. Clare Quilty

    Hi, I am on day 9 after a tonsillectomy and have found something that helps -a lot- with my ear pain is to rub pure Lavender essential oil around my ear concentrating more on the bottom half, then rub the oil from the ear down the line of the cheekbone across the face towards the corner of the mouth and again from the ear down the line of the jaw to the chin. No harm in a few drops from the ear down the neck across the throat too.
    I find it gets the pain under control very quickly while the pain meds kick in, I am in Australia and am alternating taking Panadeine Forte and Nurofen Plus.
    Hope this works for others too, good luck with your recovery.

  4. Nancy

    I’m on Day 10 of a tonsillectomy and sinus surgery (they also used a retractor on me, so my jaw hurts, too). I have taken to wetting and freezing q-tips and put them down my ears. It is a very very intense momentary relief, and it also lifts your spirits (my 3 and 6 year olds thought mommy was a little crazy), but after all that pain, a little levity couldn’t hurt. You can also run the q-tips around the back of your ears and press down against your jaw bone. I also keep a hand full of “teething rings” from when my kids were small in the freezer. They are great for emergencies, and freeze up really quickly. You can keep a few of these on rotation, especially for the back of your ears and jaw. Hope this helps.

  5. Kristi

    I am 40 years old. I had my tonsillectomy on 1/31/14. I have had a rough time with the healing going into my throat. It feels like there are stitches in my throat…if I try to eat…I feel like food gets stuck in that area and then the ear pain begins. Does anyone have any helpful tips about how to help this heal quicker? Has anyone else had th is problem?

  6. Nikki

    this website seems to be the best that ive looked at. i am 14 years old and am on day 4, my ear pain has been the wrost! i find it hurts more than my throat, it hurts the most in the morning and evening. i really hope the gum chewing and heat helps! i have been taking tylenol extra strength and advil every 4 hours and it seems to be helping but not as much as i would like it too, but thank you for this info it was very helpful!

  7. Sarah

    I’m on day 7 after my tonsillectomy and my ear pain started to hit on day 4. It is insanely painful. I couldn’t handle the percocet (throwing up for the 12 hours following surgery disabused me of any thoughts of taking that) so I’m taking motrin and tylenol alternatingly, every 4 hours or so. I’ve been a bit more fortunate than a lot of people in these forums because I’ve been able to eat decent meals for the past couple of days. Yesterday I made salmon and zucchini and it was delicious!! Someone wrote to eat ice cream – don’t do it! Do sorbet instead. Such sweet relief :)
    For my ear ache I’ve been taking my pain meds, obviously, but also a decongestant (with the logic that the pain was coming from fluid buildup). It helps a LOT. I have taken the off-the-shelf decongestants that you can take every 4 hours, but honestly, what helps the most is the behind the counter stuff with pseudoephedrin. Just thought I’d share!

    1. Medeann Parton

      I use ice on the outside of my neck over where it is most painful. Also, DO NOT IRRIGATE THE HOLES IN YOUR THROAT WHERE THE TONSILS WERE. This will increase the ear pain. If food gets stuck, just drink water normally. This will dislodge some of the material and some of it will work out on its own. Sherbert and anything cold will help. Ricola cough drops have helped me and I am 10 days post op.

  8. Cassie

    My ear pain started at 1am this morning. I’m on day 5 after surgery and I’m having the worst time. I took my prescribed pain medication and it didn’t help one bit. I almost passed out from the pain and I was crying so hard until 4am. I finally fell asleep and when I woke up this morning the pain was back so I did what any 23 year old would do, texted my mom haha. She advised me to wrap a towel around my head and use my blowdryer on my ears on medium cause the heat would help the pain and she was right (I didn’t have any heating pads on deck). I’ve been doing that on and off all day as the ear pain starts to get worse but I just saw what you posted about chewing gum. I was hesitant because my tongue is still numb and my teeth have been so sensitive but my teeth adjusted after about 30 seconds and the chewing gum really seems to be helping. Thanks for this website, it’s helped me through this painful time a lot.

  9. rothiam

    Maybe I’m a bit different than your average person, but I have been coping with ear pain by using external ice packs…I put it in the crook of my neck and lean my head on it so it ices both my throat and my ear at the same time. I get such relief from this that I actually can fall asleep for the 20 minutes or so that I’m doing it!

  10. Beki

    Heat packs definitely help with the ear pain! I’m on day 6 and the worst part for me so far is the ear pain- particularly in the mornings and evenings, I constantly have a heat pack on each ear and it really does help!

  11. Greg

    Thanks Danyelle. Hope you get feeling better soon! I appreciate all of your comments- It’s what brings this site to life- an amazing community!

  12. Daynelle

    Excellent research Greg! I hope you’ve received some awards for this website. Seriously it has been a blessing to me! I just sent my boyfriend to the store for some gum, it feels like I’m on an airplane, my ears hurt bad. What has kept the edge off for me is just sitting up. Especially after drinking or (attempting) to eat anything. The days that I fell asleep laying flat were the worst, I spoke with a nurse who said the acid from my empty stomach went up my esophagus to my wounds, irritating it more, which leads to my ears. Thanks again Greg.

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