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.

  3. Day 3 ( surgery=day 0)

    The absolute hardest thing to deal with so far had been the constipation. My pain at worst is a 5-6 (I set my alarm every 4 hours to take my medicine, drink a lot of water, eat a lot of popsicles, ice my throat when needed…basically I’m taking good care of myself). I have not yet had ear and jaw pain. I’m someone who has very regular bowel movements (about two a day) and to not be able to go is slightly distressing. Because I never have bowel issues, I did not prepare for possible constipation due to meds. If you think you won’t have a problem, talk to your doc anyway—it might be a good idea to go on a stool softener. Surgery was Wednesday (I last had a bm wed. morning). It is now Saturday morning, 3 full days since a bm. That might not seem bad, but it is for a frequent goer. Yesterday was uncomfortable and I found myself on the toilet two different times straining (NOT RECOMMENDED). I didn’t bleed, but it hurts there now. I tried stool softeners and a laxitive last night and it didn’t work. I’m having someone pick me up a bunch of prune juice, suppositories and gloves. If this doesn’t work, I’ll have to do an enema.

    1. Oh, by didn’t bleed, I meant my throat. I did have a little bleeding below from straining….and I probably gave myself hemorrhoids in the process : ( Tip: if you have to strain, stop. It won’t come out no matter how badly you want it to. Call the nurse/doc to see what you can take. Good luck.

  4. I’m 9 days post op. Some notes about my process: Surgery and recovery at the hospital went well. Discharged home feeling good. I couldn’t sleep propped up on the bed so I made myself cozy sleeping sitting up on the couch for the next 5 nights. Peas! Frozen peas worked so much better for me then ice packs since they form to the face. Grabbed a few produce bags from the produce department at the grocery store and put some peas in each bag so I had a rotation going. My uvula became SO BIG for a few days following surgery. I am talking like almost completely blocking my throat. I couldn’t talk. When I inhaled it sounded like I was gargling. It was crazy! I wish I could show you all the picture I took of it. HaHa. I had ice water with me at all times. I could only eat Popsicles Apple sauce and jello. I tried eating a scrambled egg on night 5 and that didn’t feel too good. My pain overall was managed well with the meds. I have had pain on both sides of my throat and jaw, my left ear and a swollen tongue. I massage my neck from my ear down to the neck and jaw which seams to relieve the pain. Feel free to ask any questions! Looking forward to hearing from you all. Oh!

  5. I’ve been relatively lucky. I am now on day 6 post op (surgery was on the 9th) and I am only now beginning to feel intolerably miserable. I read everything I could about adult tonsillectomies (I’m 26) and did everything I could to prepare (this site was a godsend for preparation tips). The first 5 days were actually pretty easy for me. No major pain, no ear pain, no tongue pain….I don’t even think my uvula is that swollen. I’ve slept in my bed every night with two humidifiers and alarms set both for water and for pain meds. I was even eating mashed potatoes and mac and cheese by day 3-4. Really, I wasn’t feeling too bad. More like a really bad case of strep. But then, I also have fibromyalgia so chronic pain is kind of something I’m used to.

    But yesterday I had a doctors appt with my gp (scheduled before my surgery was scheduled) and she refilled my pain scripts only no one carried what I’m suppsoed to take (demerol) so I had to get a temporary script for something else until they ordered that. Long story short, I was running around from 9am until about 3pm with almost no sleep and no pain medication. Now I keep having sharp pains (in addition to the achey ones) in my neck and I feel like i’m going nuts. When does this end? I’m not sure if the scabs are falling off or if I just stressed my system but I’m more miserable than I’ve been since day 1 and I just want it to end already.

  6. im now on day 4 post op. pain is soooooo bad im 21 years old and had to have my tonsils removed because of reoccurring tonsil stones. the pain meds i was given doesnt help at all. ear pain is unreal and dont get me started about tooth pain. i knew i was going to be in pain after, but nothing prepares you for the pain. im trying to eat normal foods, but not foods that i think that will hurt me. i constantly have a glass of water near me to keep my throat from drying out. i want the pain just to end tbh

  7. Hello all – I had a tonsillectomy exactly three weeks ago. I am 43 years old. I have to say the recovery was MUCH more difficult than I had been led to believe it would be. I was in very serious pain for 10 full days, and still have discomfort swallowing and moving my tongue around today. But what is bothering me the most is there seems to be a thick ridge of scar tissue along the margins of one of the wounds, just on the left side. It feels like there is something stuck in my throat all the time, as if I had been eating popcorn and gotten a little popcorn skin stuck. Has anyone else had a similar result, and if so, did it eventually resolve?

    1. I am having similar problems. I am 59. I am 17 days post-op and still have discomfort swallowing. I also feel a rough area on the right side and feel like something is stuck in my throat. It seems the scabs would have fallen off by now. I don’t go back to the doctor for another week so I hope I have improvement by then or he can identify the problem.

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