Post Tonsillectomy Recovery Surprises

Surprises After Tonsillectomy

post tonsillectomy recovery

Not everyone reads through this website before embarking on their tonsillectomy journey.  I do my best to help patients prepare for surgery and tonsillectomy recovery, but I can’t reach everyone.

I’ve had over 20,000 unique comments across all the pages and posts.  This is an amazing library of personal experiences.  Having read through almost every single comment, there are a few things that surprise patients as they recover.

So here they are, in no particular order:

Post Tonsillectomy Recovery Surprises

Swollen Uvula – Whoa! That thing looks like an 80 pound punching bag!

One of the most unpleasant surprises in the first couple days post tonsillectomy is the swelling of the uvula.  It can get huge, causing discomfort and even difficulty swallowing and breathing.

Get ahead of this little surprise by asking your doctor about possible pharmaceutical solutions, icing the area religiously after surgery, and keeping a steady flow of cold liquids going.

Tonsillectomy Recovery Time – I only took a week off from work!

Maybe it’s because people know of children who have quick recoveries.  Most people, including many ear nose and throat doctors, just don’t appreciate how long it takes an adult to fully recovery from tonsillectomy surgery.  From my experience, remember the 20,000 comments?, ten days is a minimum, and two weeks is average.

Avoid this surprise by taking enough time off from work in advance, and arranging support.  If you’re lucky and recover faster, I’m sure your boss will let you come back early.

Ear Pain – What’s going on?

Most folks expect a sore throat after surgery. Many are surprised by what can be rather severe ear pain. Doctors call it a referred pain.  Nerves connect the whole ear, nose, and throat area.  Pain in one location often transfers, or is referred, to another.

It usually occurs a few day into recovery.  Don’t be surprised by ear pain after tonsillectomy. Have some sugarless chewing gum on hand.  I don’t know why, but chewing gum helps relieve the pain.  A warm compress can also sooth the area.

Pain Pain – Oh my goodness this hurts!

A good ENT or their nurse should prepare a patient for what’s coming.  many do not. Each person’s experience is unique but most adults experience significant pain after tonsillectomy.

The surprise often comes days after surgery.  I call the first twenty four hours post-op, “the honeymoon.” With the strong drugs from the hospital still in our systems, things don’t seem that bad the first day.  That changes.

For many people, myself included, the worst days are the sixth through eighth.

Don’t be surprised. Take your pain medications on schedule, sleep upright, run a humidifier, ice, and stay hydrated!

Bleeding After Tonsillectomy – Should I panic?

A severe bleed is one of the biggest risks after tonsillectomy surgery.  Some bleeding is normal.  I had some bleeding on and off.  Gently gargling with ice cold water stopped it each time.

If the bleeding doesn’t stop, I’ve read that this occurs in about 5% of patients, get medical attention immediately.  It can be life threatening.

Don’t be surprised by bleeding after tonsillectomy. Don’t panic.  Don’t take it lightly either.

Scabs – What is going on back there??

This one gets more questions, and generates more internet searches than any other topic I write about.  People can become obsessed.

Depending on the method used, and the post tonsillectomy recovery diet, scabbing over of the tonsil beds is very common. I’ve shared some pictures in case you are curious: Tonsillectomy Scab Pictures.

It looks horrible.  My non-medical advice is stop looking.  Like a recently lost tooth, there is a natural urge to explore the new gaps.  Aside from eating, drinking, and gargling, this area should not be disturbed.  The scabs will slough off in their own time.  As they do, some sharp pain is common.  A little bleeding can be too.

Dehydration – Why am I so run down?

This one sneaks up on people. Because it can be difficult to swallow, many patients don’t drink enough post tonsillectomy. Recovery is much harder without proper hydration. Just ask someone who has had  IV fluids after becoming dehydrated- hydrated feels better!

Stay on top of hydration, whether it means blowing through cases of popsicles, drinking room temperature broth, or downing more Gatorade than an olympic marathoner.  It’s worth it.

Sense of Taste – Wine tastes like salty iron!

As patients begin to recover and get back to their normal selves, many are surprised by changes to their sense of taste.   It’s temporary in most cases but can take months to fully correct.

It’s not clear why it occurs, but it often does. Don’t be surprised and don’t worry about it.  It should pass.

Your Experience- Did you have any post tonsillectomy recovery surprises?

Please share them in the comments section below.  Thanks!

-Greg Tooke

11 thoughts on “Post Tonsillectomy Recovery Surprises”

  1. I’m on day 3 post op
    I genuinely want to kill myself, I have 0 sense of taste and I have no desire to eat.
    Drinking is very difficult as it feels as if I’m getting stabbed in the ear every time I take a sip of something.
    I feel hopeless and lost, I hate myself for doing this. someone please tell me it gets better.

  2. Well, I finally went. I drank 8oz of prune juice before placing a suppository, which barely worked. Very uncomfortable and painful. Luckily I didn’t have a throat bleed. The pressure from being backed up was making it difficult to urinate, plus it was uncomfortable from the constipation alone. Because I had taken softgels and a laxative the night before (and the prune juice added to it), behind the hardened mass was diarrhea. Wow. Hopefully I won’t go through that again. I’ll take the softgels every day to stay on top of it. I have a sore butt now, but thankfully I already had a bunch of vasaline. First time I’ve been constipated so bad I couldn’t go without help. Ugh.

    1. I found Mira lax works better than a stool softener. I am on day 15 post op, and all in all must say it was easier than I was expecting. It wasn’t EASY, but not the Spanish inquisition I was expecting. The swelling was the worst, so I pretty much stopped talking. I went to soft foods scrambled eggs, rice, mac and cheese and mashed potatoes, but also soft chicken. Protein was important for me so I drank Carnation instant breakfast the few times I didn’t want to chew anything. Ice was my best friend, and definitely don’t rush yourself.

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