Panic Attacks After Tonsillectomy?

I was recently asked by a person a few days out from surgery if panic attacks after tonsillectomy were common. She had had one, but never had before. She wondered if perhaps the pain medicines had caused the panic attack.

It got me thinking. After reading thousands of stories from people recovering from tonsillectomy surgery, I know that panic attacks are not unusual. I always assumed that they happened to people with a history of anxiety and/or panic attacks. But here was someone with no history of such.

Panic attacks after tonsillectomy

Panic attacks after tonsillectomy

I dug around a little and really did not find any compelling evidence of a link between common pain medicines and panic attacks or increased anxiety, though there certainly are anecdotal cases.

My next step was to go to my readers. a few hundred veteran tonsillectomy patients follow my Face Book page, MyBigFatTonsillectomy. These people have been an extremely valuable resource for questions like this. I asked the question: Did you have a panic attack(s) while recovering? Had you had them before?

Here’s what people had to say:

Panic Attacks After Tonsillectomy?

Tonsillectomy Resources
2 hours ago
Did you have a panic attack(s) while recovering? Had you had them before?
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April  and Chente  like this.

Ashley  I didn’t have panic attacks while recovering and I’ve had them before. But I have woken up in the middle of the night worried that my monster tonsils grew back!
2 hours ago · Like · 2

Christy I just felt like this must be what starving to death feels like…unable to eat, drink water, horrible unrelenting pain until about day 8 or 9
2 hours ago via mobile · Like

Brandi  Yes, I had gotten sick a couple of times and then felt like I could not breath from the swelling. Called my doctor and he said it was a panic attack. After I calmed down, I was much better. Scary stuff though!
2 hours ago · Like

Maja  I didn’t have them before but I experienced 2 or 3 during my recovery period. I was surprised how intensive and scary it was, I felt like jumping out of my skin from fear, pain and over-excitement. This operation is really a nasty one.
2 hours ago via mobile · Like · 1

Lucy  I had a panic attack & in doing so somehow made my tongue swell. It was so bad I could hardly breath, I couldn’t swallow so I couldn’t take any pain killers & was just dribbling constantly. I went to the Dr’s but he couldn’t see anything wrong so went home, lay down & concentrated on my breathing & after 20 mins was fine again!
about an hour ago · Like

Sarah  I had a panic attack in the ER on day 3 post-op… I went to the ER for fluids because I hadn’t been able to drink anything since the surgery due to the pain. Even the IV morphine didn’t help the pain all that much! The nurse who put the IV line in my …See More
about an hour ago via mobile · Like

Nicole No panic attacks but the narcotics gave me a lot of weird dreams and I’d wake up kinda freaking out, my cat would sleep with me a lot and I’d wake up and think she was dead so I’d wake her up too, poor kitty. And no haven’t had them before. And I kept …See More
about an hour ago via mobile · Like

Chente The pain meds helped not to have them but after I had to go back into the hospital due to bleeding and stayed 1.5 days I began to have them so I asked for klonopin.
about an hour ago via mobile · Like

April Had my first real panic attack during this surgery when I woke up and couldn’t “feel” myself breathe or swallow. I wasn’t able to use the liquid lidocaine afterward for this reason. I would have rather dealt with the pain than then feeling of numbness in my throat…
about an hour ago via mobile · Like

Amber  I already have huge issues with anxiety and panic attacks, but while I was waiting to be taken back, I nearly had one and it took two doses of anxiety meds to get me calmed down before they took me back.
Also, I had some during my recovery, especially one day when I used throat numbing suckers and physically couldn’t swallow so I was too terrified to sleep because I was sure I was going to aspirate during the night.
30 minutes ago · Like · 1

I’ll continue to research this topic and add information as I find it. I’m interested in how common panic attacks are in tonsillectomy patients and also the causes.

Do you have experience with panic attacks after tonsillectomy surgery? Please help others by sharing in the comments section. Thank you.



22 thoughts on “Panic Attacks After Tonsillectomy?”

  1. Hi
    I’m 44 years old and I had a tonsillotomy (tonsils partially removed) 45 days ago. Yesterday I experienced for the first time of my life the panic attack symptoms. I felt like suffocated and feeling like removing my blouse and my pressure going down like fainting and difficult to breath. I felt really bad for a few minutes and started to breath and drunk some water and forced myself to calm down. I tryed to describe to my husband these feelings but he didn’t understand it preety clear. I will book an appointment with my doctor and try to find out if this is expected and how long this will take and if it can be recurrent.

  2. I had my tonsils removed 7 days ago. I’m 33 and normally deal with anxiety and panic attacks. But today I took a bath to try and just relax, all of a sudden I felt like I wasn’t getting enough air. I tried to talk myself through it and nothing was working. I still had to wash my face and hair and I remember when I stood up and closed the shower curtain it felt like I just cut off another layer of fresh air. I dreaded washing my face thinking that was gonna be it. The soap and water in my face made me feel like I was drowning. It wasn’t until I was outta the shower and able to open the bathroom door that I got the relief of being able to breath again. I was home alone for the whole thing too which made the anxiety worse. Since being in recovery this is my worst panic attack experience. I’ve only had one other situation where my alarm woke me up out of a really horrifying nightmare I was having and that experience scared me into thinking if I fell back to sleep anytime soon that Id stop breathing in my sleep. I’m home alone during the days. So I was really un easy the rest of the day.

  3. Hello my name is Angel, I too agree with Julia. My son had a tonsillectomy and soon after for the first time in his life started having panic attacks. I called his doctor and they explained to me, that they re is not enough research covered or done on this but it is very common for children and some adults to experience panic attacks right after having their tonsils removed. They also told me some children also experience night terrors right after the surgery.. I wish they had disclosed this prior to the surgery. My son since then has had random anxiety attacks and it hasn’t gotten better. I now warn parents to do all the research they can before putting their child through this, I only wish I had known and maybe I would’ve searched for a different alternative…

  4. Your doctor was very wrong to tell you to ‘find someone’ to give you their personally prescribed controlled substances like xanax and valium. That’s illegal and dangerous. He should have referred you to an ER or sent a script somewhere. That puts an unfair burden on people you know who take xanax and NEED it and get it in limited quantities, and now you’re asking for it from them because your dr is unethical? I’d say no.

    You’re doctor sucks.

  5. Yes, I absolutely are having panic attacks because This feeling is not going away n I’m so upset that I’m gonna have to live like this the rest of my life. I’m 52 n 3 months ago I had Tonsillectomy. Went back to my Dr twice. He put the scope down my nose n he said it’s stil a Lil tight n some scar tissue. He said his got better about 4 months later but he was 29. I’m upset n I asked him am I’m gonna have to live like this. Swollen throat n sore, tightness, feels like I’m living with a bad sore throat EVEYDAY. Yes, I have Reflux n allergies. Does anyone know another kind of a Dr that can help me. I NEVER would have got my Tonsils out if I’d known I was gonna have to live like this. PLEASE Any Information I Would be Helpful.

  6. I had my tonsils out 16 days ago and my uvula in big and I still have a few white spots back of my throat I feel like I have something in my throat like I’m choking
    And yes panic attack I am 42 and I just want to feel better ! I have 2 girls one 4 and I’m useless I feel when I have these attacks !

  7. Hi Julia- I’m so sorry I couldn’t respond sooner! I saw your post last night but my phone wouldn’t let me comment! I too have suffered from panic attacks- no fun. For me, it was situational. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was very stressed out. WHen my life calmed back down, they went away. Is it possible that the job is stressing you out? It sounds like getting away from it helped, and returning is not. Just a thought.

    I’m a patient like you. I don’t have medical training so I try to avoid giving medical advice. In my experience pharmacists are the best resource for drug interaction and effectiveness informations.

    If you’d like, feel free to contact me directly through Facebook message.

    Best of health to you!

  8. Hi Greg,

    I know this is an old post but it popped up when I googled panic attacks after tonsillectomy and wanted to share my story. I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s experienced this, whether it’s official in the medical lit or not.

    I’ve had anxiety and depression for a long time and finally started treating it 6 months ago with lexapro, klonopin, and counseling. I’ve been great and stable for awhile now. I also have narcolepsy which complicates things a little. I can’t take klonopin during the day because it makes me fall asleep. However, I am on provigil which is fantastic and has actually improved my anxiety and depression.

    Anyway, i had my tonsillectomy about a week ago and took a week off work. Physically it’s been painful, exhausting, all that fun stuff. But mentally I felt so great all week and really enjoyed having time to rest and not have to think about work. Well, I’ve starting weaning off my hycet and last night I had my first panic attack in months after a minor squabble from my husband. Today I’ve been crying and anxious most if the day and I feel like I’m 2 hairs away from a full-blown panic attack. But, I just called a pharmacist and a nurse to ask if I should be worried about the meds being the cause of this. They said it’s normal for our bodies to metabolize medications differently when we’re in recovery mode. I am also stressed about returning to work and grad school and getting back into the grind.

    When it’s all said and done, I’m not surprised a major and extremely painful surgery wouldn’t cause anxiety in people, or aggravate it in those of us who have anxiety disorders. Just realizing that is helping me calm down. I’m relaxing on my couch watching funny shows and doing my breathing. Tonight I’ll take a klonopin before I go to sleep (it can cause hypotension when taken with Hycet, so people just be careful when you mix those). I’m going to mention this experience to my doctor. There should be a lot more warning and preparation about anxiety for people undergoing medical procedures. Good luck everyone and know it’s going to be ok!!

  9. I just got mine out today. Wow did I underestimate the pain! And this is the only the “honey moon” phase :/
    I guess while under anesthesia while the dr pulled the breathing tube out I bit my tongue pretty bad causing even more swelling to the tongue. When I woke up I immediately had a giant panic attack. It was so scary cuz it felt like I couldn’t breath at all. It took me a 5 hours for the panic to go away completely. Not the best time to hyperventilate!
    I have an anxiety disorder and take medication for it everyday anyone. Also I have xanax if I do get a really bad one. My dr said it was ok to take it with the pain meds.

  10. I had a tonsillectomy at age 42 in April of this year. The surgery was uneventful and following the hints and advice on this website I made it through a sucessful 2 1/2 weeks of recovery. The problems began in late June when I began to feel like I had something “stuck” in my throat. The whole inside of my mouth and throat feels so “different” than before. I ended up in ER with chest pain, stomach issues and now they are treating me for acid reflux (GERD), which I never had before. The have done an EGD to look down my throat into my esophagus-no findings. They have tested for gall baldder-all ok. I can’t eat the foods I used to, I have this constant dry throat, and everything seems different than before the surgery. All of which creates great anxiety and panic because I can’t believe this is never going to get better. I swallowed around enlarged tonsils for a VERY long time but never had these problems until my tonsils were removed removed. The ENT who performed my surgery assured me that things are ok, and my local doctor seems to be at the end of things to try. I know I needed them out, but this whole post op expierience had led me to be so anxious and very frustrated!

  11. a few hrs after getting home from the hospital the back of my tongue swelled up, my voice changed and my heart started racing. I felt calm but my heart racing felt like a panic attack. I went back to the ED for steroids to shrink swelling and different pain meds, and they kept me till the next day.

  12. I was only 9 when I had my tonsillectomy. Panic attacks weren’t even a recognized phenom that’s so long ago. I doubt if I had one anyway.

  13. I began having panic/anxiety attacks about three weeks after my tonsillectomy. My ENT made me feel as though I was nuts and told me it had nothing to do with the tonsillectomy; however, I had never had any history of anxiety of any kind prior to my tonsillectomy.
    After seeing my regular doctor, he concluded that it was a side effect of the pain meds I had been taking. I was prescribed oxycodone and took it regularly for the tonsillectomy pain for almost three weeks. One of the withdrawal symptoms is anxiety attacks. My body was in withdrawal from the pain meds.
    My doctor prescribed Paxil to help regulate my system, and a small number of Xanax in the interim for the attacks. It took a couple weeks to feel like myself, but once the tonsillectomy drugs were completely out of my system (and I was able to get some actual sleep that I had missed out on for weeks) I was back to my old self!
    The tonsillectomy process for adults is quite grueling… but the results are wonderful in the end!!
    Colleen 🙂

  14. I had anxiety issues months after my tonsillectomy, but I don’t think it was at all related. I had mild issues with anxiety that got worse in the year following the surgery, but I also had undiagnosed hypogonadism, which can cause anxiety/depression.
    I DID panic when the anesthesiologist didn’t tell me he was putting a paralytic in the gas he used, but that’s a different issue.

  15. Fortunately, no panic attacks here. Too tired. Too sore.
    Too focused on survival and the next, blissful, pain pill.
    Three and a half weeks and twenty five pounds lost…

  16. I had never had a panic attack prior to my tonsillectomy. In the recovery room, I panicked a bit feeling like I couldn’t breathe, but the nurses quickly soothed me, gave me ice chips, and calmly told me that I was breathing just fine, which I was. I felt fine after that, it went away quickly. A couple of days later, out of nowhere, sitting in my living room, it happened again and this time it was much worse. I dropped to my knees and thought I was dying. I called my doctor who said if I knew anyone with valium or xanax, to get my hands on some quickly. Someone brought me Xanax which I took. A few days later I had another minor panic attack but I was with my husband and he talked me through it.

    Since then, I have had a few panic attacks, and I had never in my life had this before my tonsillectomy. I panic when I can’t breathe well, particularly through my nose. If I get a cold, the pain and inconvenience of the cold is *nothing* compared to the panic. I hate it. It’s been a year, and cold season is coming, and I’m already nervous. Ugh.

  17. I have huge issues with anxiety. But I don’t recall having a panic attack post-tonsillectomy. Like the previous poster, I did wake up panicked a little a couple of times due to nightmares my tonsils grew back.

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