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

Cause

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.

-Greg

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!

Comments

  1. 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.

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