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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112 Comments on "Ear Pain After Tonsillectomy"

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August 19, 2016 3:03 pm

Jason. Almost 41 years old. Had tonsillectomy and “palatoplasty” on 8/15. (Look it up – horrible.) I thought (hoped) my Dr. was just kidding when he told me the pain would be “excruciating.” He wasn’t. Haven’t been doing much but sleeping and taking warm soaks in tub. Seems to help. Ear pain is really beginning to get bad now on day 5. Also, teeth really hurting, I’m sure as a result of gritting my teeth to swallow through pain. Breath horrible. I would suggest to anyone to get a cool must humidifier and sleep with it on in the room where you’re laid up. It seems to keep the throat a little more moist. I am really in nothing short of hell. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t. Sorry – but it’s the truth. Good luck to everyone.

August 10, 2016 12:45 pm

Thank you Maddie for your advice. im very young and my ear pain is unbearable. I cant even swallow without being on the verge of tears.so im glad that im not the only one experiencing this pain!

August 10, 2016 1:18 am

24y/o female, surgery 8/2/16 so glad to hear you all had the same thing I’m not experiencing. Today is day 7 for me. Around day 5 my pain started to worsen in my throat and eat pain started to arise. My doctor had warned me of this so I just kept keeping on. Decided I wanted to get out of the house for a bit and wound up throwing up in a movie theater bathroom. NOT FUN. Day 6, ear pain was severe and I vomited again! Day 7, ear pain is unbearable and untouched by pain meds. Decided to try a trick I learned from a flight attendant when I was young. Put wet paper towels in a mug, nuked it in the microwave for 45 seconds, and cupped it around my ear. Instant relief!!! Make sure there’s no water sloshing around in the cup before you place it around your ear otherwise you will burn yourself. Good luck, friends! This is one sucky post op!