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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72 Comments on "Ear Pain After Tonsillectomy"

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April 20, 2016 3:17 pm

I found that the chiropractor helped me with the pain in my ears. I am amazed how much releif I have in them since my alignment. Nothing else worked for me, and the pain was unbearable. One trip to a great chiropractor and I could feel the pressure/pain in my ears just draining away. I am now able to swallow and move my head around with no ear pain!!!! I figured it was worth a try since nothing else worked and am so glad I went.

April 18, 2016 7:09 pm

I have a question, I am in my fifties and on day 20 of recovery, went back to work and suddenly having sharp left ear pain come back and feel like I am swallowing glass. Wondering why this pain came back 😥. Has anyone else had this 3 weeks later??? Am desperate to get better

April 18, 2016 8:01 am

I’m 17 years old and on Day 7 of recovery – the ear ache was no where near this bad until about Day 5 where the pain seemed to be 100 times worse than it was the previously (although the other side effects were worst on Day 3/4, which have been my worst days overall so far). I use a small hot water bottle one the worst ear, and chew gum non-stop.
The pain subsides after about an hour, but even eating something soft like a yogurt causes it to come back, and it literally feels like someone shot through my ear drum. Wondering how much longer this is going to last.

April 20, 2016 4:16 pm

I am in the same boat you are, on day 6. Nothing makes the ear pain go away. I went to the Dr. Today and he started me on a steroid, but nothing wrong with ny ears he said. the only thing that has helped with the ears at all was making a trip to the chiropractor. We are fortunate enough to have a great one here in my small town so I figured I would try that. I was there about an hour ago and can’t believe the releif I have felt. I can move my neck around without pain and even swolling liquids doesn’t hurt my ears, yeah it still is tender on my throat but the ear pain is almost completely gone. I have cried multiple timesin the last 48 hours because the pain in my ears was so bad and nothing helped. My son called my mom and told her to come over because he had only seen me cry one time and that was when I blew out my knee and he was scared because I was crying on the couch, he is 9. After my alignment at the chiropractor my ears feel 100% better, hopefully it lasts a while

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