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.
Seagate Olive Leaf Throat SprayThe 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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124 Comments on "Ear Pain After Tonsillectomy"

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September 26, 2016 11:24 am

I’m post tonsillectomy day 6, I’m 40 years old and this is by far the worst recovery I have ever went through. My ENT gave me off work til tomorrow! I still can’t drink or talk plain and I’m a nurse that talks on the phone all day! I’m almost out of pain meds given 20 tabs. This is crazy!!! Is anyone else coughing up copious amounts of yellow “snot like” drainage??

September 23, 2016 7:15 pm

Hang in there . The ear pain will go away. I used a heat pack to help with pain and RX to help with the ear. I kept Ice packs around my throat from day 1 until day 8. It helped a lot with the pain and I lived on ice cups and cold bits of ice cream . It’s hard but you will get thru this. I am 52 and had this and it is hard but I believe the ice packs around my throat 24/7 helps . My God Bless you thru this 😇👍🏻

September 23, 2016 6:30 pm

I’m a 33yr old female and just had my tonsils and adenoids removed on 8-16-16. I knew that I would be in pain but no one can prepare you for the torture that you endure during recovery. My doctor said the surgery went wonderfully! However when I woke in recovery I was screaming. 2 shots of dilaudid followed by 2 shots of morphine then Zofran and Phenergan and I was then able to have a bite of ice. I was kept in the hospital until Sunday to monitor my breathing. Thank God I was kept because the pain was unreal. I couldn’t breathe or swallow and was up literally all night. I have gastritis and so a lot of pain meds really mess with my stomach. I was released Sunday evening and by Monday morning I was at the ER in severe ear and throat pain. They gave me liquid vicodin and sent me on my way. I have been battling this ear pain since! Nothing helps and I am petrified to try heat because the heat brings blood to the area. Had I known what this would be like I would have kept my enormous tonsils!