An Adult Tonsillectomy Experience
As you may already know, tonsillectomy in adults is a little different than the experience of a child tonsillectomy. I think it’s helpful to read about other adults’ experiences when considering, planning, or recovering from surgery.
With special thanks, I’d like to share an account form an adult named Sarah. She originally posted this as a comment. I thought it was so good that I’d make it a permanent post to the site.
Tonsillectomy in Adults -Sarah’s Tonsillectomy and Recovery
I am three weeks out from my tonsillectomy and wanted to post a summary. I also wanted to thank Greg for making this website – as others have said, it has so many great tips and provides so much more practical information than you get from your doctor or standard medical websites. Sorry for the long post but wanted to capture it all at once.
So here goes:
The Background. As a child, I got strep throat and ear infections all the time, but I grew up in the 1970s, when it was out of fashion to put in tubes and take out tonsils. I continued to get ear infections until I was in my mid-20s, and I continued to get both strep and viral tonsillitis all through college and into my 20s. In retrospect, I clearly should have had my tonsils and adenoids removed and tubes put in my ears; instead, I had a zillion rounds of antibiotics. I started to get tonsil stones in my 30s, and I’d still get tonsillitis regularly. One tonsil was especially large. The tonsil stones weren’t enough to make me consider a tonsillectomy. But this past year, I got strep three times in six months, and that’s what finally did it. The third time came just three weeks after the second time. I happened to be on my first day of vacation and tried to ride it out – took a ton of Advil and Tylenol, but didn’t go to the doctor. After I came back from vacation, everything got worse, and I was miserable. I went to an ENT this time, and she diagnosed strep plus a peritonsillar abscess, and I had to go on clindamycin, which is a harder-core, broad-spectrum antibiotic that can give you c.diff. She also said the tonsils needed to come out, so I scheduled surgery six weeks out from then to give me time to get well. Other than the random strep attacks, I was a very healthy, fit 42-year-old.
Pre-Surgery. I got a cold about 10 days before surgery and was worried I’d have to cancel. I’m passing this along in case it happens to you. At my pre-op appointments, the surgeon and anesthesiologist both said it should be OK – they said they’d advise you to cancel surgery if you were really ill or if you were just in the “coming down with something” phase since they’d worry that they weren’t sure how sick you’d get. Since I was in the “picking up the pieces” stage by the time surgery rolled around, they thought it would be fine, and it was.
The Surgery. I had a coblation tonsillectomy, which you may have read about. It uses ionized saline to detach the tonsils, and my ENT feels it’s a less brutal method – no burning of surrounding tissue, etc. The recovery wasn’t easy, but it was perhaps easier than electrocautery. I had a 7:30am surgery scheduled and arrived at the surgery center at about 6:30am. By about 7am, I was in the holding area of the OR with an IV, giving my medical history and listening to the woman next to me (who was in for knee surgery) joke about how much easier that would be than a tonsillectomy. By 7:25, I was on the OR table, getting Versed through the IV to calm me down, then propofol to knock me out. By 8:30, I was waking up in the recovery area. They had added Tylenol to the IV. My throat hurt, but I felt OK overall, and was able to leave by about 10.
The Meds. My doctor prohibited ibuprofen and steroids because of risk of bleeding, and boy, did I wish I had them (ibuprofen is magical to me). She instructed me to use Tylenol and oxycodone, and I also got Zofran and phenergan because of past issues with nausea. I ended up taking the oxycodone for four or five days before I could no longer deal with the nausea and the constipation from the zofran to help with the nausea. Zofran constipation is BAD, people – like nothing you’ve ever experienced. I took it while I was pregnant but had forgotten just how much it grinds everything to a halt. My doctor had mentioned that people sometimes have a bleed in their tonsil area from straining too hard from a BM, so I was freaked out about that as well. So starting on day 4 or 5, it was only Tylenol for me. It was a fair trade.
The Summary. I didn’t leave my house for a week and was in bed a LOT of the time, but then my energy came back, and then my throat gradually improved. This was the most unpleasant recovery from anything I’ve ever had. I got lucky and never had ear pain, though, so I would still consider some other things to have been more painful, at least in an acute sense, like a tailbone injury, a herniated disc in my back, and endometriosis. This was worse in that it’s a constant pain for a long time – to me, it felt like untreated strep throat combined with other nasty bonus items. Other things I got lucky on: no bleeding, no changes to taste, and no scabs ending up in my mouth.
The Best Tips. I highly recommend the Honeywell humidifier and the Hamilton Beach ice shaver in Greg’s Amazon store. The humidifier is very good (be warned, though: it’s a large item), and the ice shaver is fabulous. I had so much shaved ice. One tip: add Gatorade or Honest Tea as the liquid in the machine – mild and refreshing. I also really appreciated the guidance that you should just forget about normal sleep timing – wake up regularly, drink, and don’t stress about it. You’re not using your brain this week anyway. I also wish I’d heeded the advice that you will get sick of the sweet stuff – by day 5 or so, I was so tired of popsicles and pudding.
The Arrangements. My husband was between jobs, so he was around but was taking care of the kids, so I had my parents come in as well. That helped. So did Google Shopping Express. Have a plan for what’s going to happen if you have to go to the ER in the middle of the night. My insomniac neighbor offered to take me, so that was our plan.
The Early Days. As I read from others, the first couple of days are not great but not really that bad, either. Knowing this, I tried to get some more substantial food down – mashed potatoes, etc. Somehow, I read accounts that your uvula gets swollen without really realizing that this means YOUR UVULA IS GOING TO TRY TO KILL YOU the first few days. You can’t lie on your back because your uvula will completely block your airway, and you will shoot up awake in a total panic. It hurt to talk. I watched a lot of the World Cup. Day 1 is OK. Day 2, everything swells up and the scabs form. They’re disgusting.
Days 3-6. These days were not great. I had a hard time getting down the 64 oz of water/Gatorade that my doctor recommended. Didn’t eat much. Mouth tasted unbelievably disgusting – sour, goopy, YUCK. I brushed my teeth and tongue often. Continued watching the World Cup. I didn’t even have enough mental energy to watch, like, a Netflix series. As I mentioned, I was having a hard time with the constipation and nausea and went off the oxycodone so that I could poop. It was worth it. I made a couple of mistakes in this phase by trying to eat something rougher than I should have for dinner and then had pain all night long.
Day 7-10. Day 7 is when I started feeling a little better each day, even if some individual thing would get worse. I started having more throat pain in the mornings – kind of that strep throat feeling. But by day 8, I was eager to leave the house and finally did. My ENT had strictly prohibited exercise, but I eased back into walks and errands. By day 11 or so, I was ready to go back to work, even though it meant I would miss my first World Cup game. My voice tired out easily and my throat still hurt quite a bit, but I was just ready to be back doing stuff and felt good otherwise. One good food tip: overbake a potato and eat it with sour cream or cottage cheese or hummus. It feels like real food. Don’t eat the peel.
Day 11-22. The scabs have slowly disintegrated. I could eat anything (nuts, chips, etc) by day 15 or so. I had my post-op appointment today, and the ENT said I look 90% healed. She said there’s no risk of bleeding at this point. She told me each tonsil had had 8-9 tonsil stones in it, and each was inflamed, but the pathology report was fine (ie, no cancer or anything). She said 8-9 stones was a much higher count than usual when she does the surgery. The only issues I still have are some numbness on the side of my tongue, which she thought would gradually go away, and some weirdness with swallowing (if I drink too fast, liquid goes up my nose, and I can’t quite swallow things like salad without chasing it with a drink), which she said would go away as my throat builds up muscle tone without the tonsils there.
I’m hoping not to get sick as much this coming year, obviously, but I’m already so happy not to have the tonsil stones! Big immediate bonus. No smelly breath, no feeling of huge bloated tonsils in my throat. I’m so grateful to this site, to Greg, and to everyone here for posting – together, we are definitely stronger. Good luck, everyone!
I asked Sarah if she’d mind if I shared all of this in a post. She cordially agreed and also added the following:
I wanted to add a couple of key things — one, I chewed a LOT of Dentyne Ice, and I think it really helped. Two, about 5 days in, I figured out that I could freeze bottles of water each day and then take them out before bedtime. I’d drink from those overnight – they stayed cold because they were gradually thawing. This was better than having lukewarm water by the bed in terms of helping with the pain.
From Our Readers
Read what our Facebook friends had for advice to adults preparing for tonsillectomy:
I posted another question for our Face Book friends. This is a group of about 350 adults who have had a tonsillectomy within the past five years. It’s an amazing community of supportive and thoughtful adults without tonsils.
I wanted to assemble a collection of tips for new patients who are planning tonsillectomy surgery- particularly adults since they have a more difficult recovery, but also because they would typically be the ones doing preparation for themselves or a child.
Tonsillectomy Recovery For Adults – How to Prepare
So here is the question:
If I could recommend one product to someone preparing for tonsillectomy it would be___________.
And here are the responses;
Mari Re- A snow cone maker-a must!!
Dayna – Humidifier!
Dee- Do a lot of good deeds before so when ur praying for relief he will help ya. Seriously. Water is great and a humidifier helped me greatly.
Shiva – Coma
Sarah -Ice chips… if morphine isn’t available
Katie-DONT DO IT!!!!!
Shannon – Toradol
Jean – Water, a recliner, and a humidifier.
Misty – After pain meds it would be pudding for me.
Kate-Several big flexible ice packs–always keep one in the freezer so it’s ready to go whenever you need one.
Kierstin -If you live in the US sonic crushed ice saved my life ! You can purchase it in a bag like at the grocers, and it’s tiny enough to lodge between the back of your tongue and scabs, and just rough enough when you swallow it, it scratches the back of your throat just delicately enough to semi relieve irritated ears ! Seriously I cried for this ice over a few day period haha
Bethany -My brother-in-law owns an amazing gelato company. He made me the most delicious mango sorbet. Even when my throat hurt bad and I really didn’t want to eat before taking my meds, I could always get excited for some delicious sorbet
Jean -I would agree with the flexible ice packs! Ice was my life saver!
Karen -Cool mist humidifier
Hollie – Liquid medications! Tablets just wouldn’t go down
Kiersten- Instant mashed potatoes! I know….gross but a lifesaver
Kiersten -Lol-I thought pain meds and water was a given!!!!
Diana – 2 weeks to recover
Rhiannon – Pop ice and a cool mist humidifier
William -A humidifier
Rosie – Jello, peaches, netflix, and hot bathes.
Christy-After pain meds, the magic mouthwash, mashed potatoes after you can somewhat eat. Go to an urgent care if you are starting to get dehydrated. I lost 14lbs in 7 days.
William -Magic mouthwash?
Tonsillectomy Resources Wow! Great stuff. Thanks everybody!
Brandi – Pain meds and Sonic ice chips – I think I would have died without both!
Crista – Ice packs!
Chente -Also- Thought I would pass along something re: magic mouthwash just to make others aware so it doesn’t happen to them. At one point after using the wash and I swallowed to pass saliva, my mouth and throat were numb and the saliva just kinda sat in my throat and I couldn’t pass it and then I choked and started coughing really bad. That isn’t what you want to do after a tonsillectomy. So just be careful and swallow with caution!
Beth Ann – Ensure or Boost drinks
Jina -Humidifier, ice packs, crushed ice with water. Boost drinks in the beginning for energy.
Kitty – An alarm to remind the next med and note pad to write down the meds as taken. It was hard to remember in the middle of the night. Both help to keep meds on board and the pain at bay.
Christina -Ice and pain meds
Chente -Pain med journal!
Rachael – Pain reliever in liquid form.