How long does it take to recover after tonsillectomy?

Tonsillectomy recovery time is unique for each patient. The recovery timeline for children is much shorter than for adults, with seemingly less pain. My own eight year old son was back to his old self in less than a week after his tonsils taken out. This may have fanned the flames of my unreasonable expectations of my own  recovery time as an adult. His was fairly typical of a child his age. Children’s bodies heal faster than adults’ do.

Tonsillectomy Recovery Time

What to expect after tonsil surgery

The timeline for recovery for an adult is a different story. Age matters. In fact, it appears that the older an adult is at the time of their tonsillectomy, the longer the recovery is, in general. Based on my own adult tonsillectomy recovery, and the stories of thousands of my readers, I’d put the average adult tonsillectomy recovery time at approximately 10.43 days. Yes, I’m that good!
Humor aside, ten days seems to be pretty typical. I added the .43 because so many people, myself included, thought they had it licked and went back to work around day ten, only to find they weren’t quite ready. As scabs slough off in second week of recovery, many adults experience a bit of a pain relapse, just as they thought they were almost recovered. This is a really tough period for many. They’ve spent almost two weeks with minimal sleep, minimal nourishment, minimal activity, and lots of pain medicine. It can be downright depressing for adults recovering in this second week.

Check out our new tonsillectomy recovery video- Caution: Not always pretty

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I do hear from many adults whose recovery times are closer to a week – perhaps due to my good advice, perhaps due to genetics. It’s hard to say why some adults’ recovery timelines are shorter, and their experiences less traumatic. There are also cases that drag out further. If you’re one of a small minority that requires re-cauterization for bleeding, or don’t take the proper precautions, (many of these are outlined here and in my book), your tonsillectomy recovery time may be as much as three or four weeks. I want to make an important point here- one that I cannot overemphasis: Stay hydrated! Keep drinking fluids! Dehydration is the worst enemy of the tonsillectomy patient.

My advice: ask your employer, your family, your friends, and the rest of the world to give you two weeks for your adult tonsillectomy. You may surprise them, hopefully for the better.

tonsillectomy recovery timeRecovery is unique to each individual- sure.  We know that recovery time for adults is longer, and maybe harder, than for children. I remember my own son bouncing back in less than a week! My own experience taught me that ten days off from a job that required lots of talking was a bit light.  I generally advise two weeks.  As I’ve said, most employers will let you come back early.  That’s easier than asking for more time after the fact. I’ve read the accounts of thousands of tonsillectomy patients- most of them adults. I’ve learned that the time required varies. I wonder though, how many tonsillectomy patients never really post about their experience.
Are you one of those quiet ones lying in the weeds? I’d like to get a better feel for the average adult tonsillectomy recovery time. Please take a moment and share your own experience in recovering from tonsillectomy surgery. You can help us all!I’ve put together a collection of items that I think would be helpful, if not essential, to making tonsillectomy recovery a little more pleasant. Check out the
Tonsillectomy General Store.

-Greg Tooke 

262 thoughts on “Tonsillectomy Recovery Time | How long does it take?

  1. My son, aged 19, had one tonsil removed at age 13. Yup, you guessed it, he needed the other one removed now, too. 12/22/17 was the day of the surgery–doctor said it was the biggest tonsil he’d seen (5cm). I was with our son and drove him home from the procedure. He’s a college student at a campus 2 hrs from our home. The doctor said it would be fine to drive him home, again 2 hrs. away from the doctor. I asked how to reach him if we needed to. I said I was concerned because of the holidays and being so far away. He gave me the number of the office number . . .

    12/24 at 6am, my son woke us up quite panicked because he was bleeding. I had asked the doctor about how to know if the bleeding was too much. He had said, “You’ll know.” Well, we knew. We raced into the ER. By God’s mercy, the bleeding subsided long enough for us to get there and for the new shift of docs/nurses to get in place. Then my son said he felt it starting again. It was like a faucet. I’ve never seen anything so horrible. Someone else on this website described it looking like a horror movie . . . that’s an understatement.

    This hospital had no Ear, Nose, Throat doctor on call. However, they were able to find an oral surgeon who was willing to come in on his day off (not on call). The ER doctor intubated my son and plugged the bleed with medicated gauze. They gave him a unit of blood immediately because of how much he lost. They took him to OR and cauterized the bleed. All of the people are my heroes because they stayed calm, moved fast, and gave their all to keep my son alive.

    Myy son stayed intubated and was on a ventilator for 24 hrs to protect his airway. He was only lightly sedated because his blood pressure runs low and they were freaked out by that–understandable, but he was awake for much of this and so very uncomfortable!!!! He was in ICU for two days and two nights, in the hospital for 4 days total. His hemoglobin (I think) had been 14 something when we came in. AFTER a unit of blood in the ER and 24 hrs had passed, it was still low at 7.5 so they gave him 2 more units of blood. The doctor said they wouldn’t replenish blood 1 to 1 at my son’s age, so he lost a lot of blood! He then developed a fever of 102.6 so he ended up staying an extra day while being given an antibiotic.

    Absolute nightmare.

    We had a follow up with his original doctor who said that the tonsil was so big and it had really big vessels. While he was surprised this all happened, it wasn’t really that surprising to him because of the size of the vessels. We took his ER doctor a bouquet of flowers and a thank you note last night. She said his case was the worst she has ever seen. She was so happy to see him smiling and doing well.

    So, the take-aways are:

    –You can spray a little bleed with Afrin nasal spray–directly on it. Our doctor had given this info in writing, but I had not anticipated needing this info. And in the moment, I didn’t have the mindfulness to go read through the paperwork.
    –If it’s more than a small bleed, go in to the ER!!!!!!! Don’t waste any time!!!!

    1. Yikes, the only thing worse than going through a miserable event personally is watching your child suffer! Makes me thankful that it is me and not my kids.

  2. I am 51 y/o female and on post op day 16 after tonsillectomy. This has been a long and hard recovery. I started feeling okay around post op day 9 but then on day 10 I had a relapse that I am just now recovering from. I am finally tolerating some very soft foods and soups but my taste buds are still raw so everything tastes like cardboard. I have lost 15 pounds (this was not a bad thing) but I would have preferred to lose the weight in a healthier manner. My throat is still raw and I still have some light scabbing. I have been very careful and stayed in bed and kept myself hydrated. My husband and daughter were excellent caregivers and have done everything possible to help me. I wouldn’t recommend anyone trying to recover without help for at least 10 days.

    I previously had 13 eye surgeries due to glaucoma and 2 of those surgeries were very intense and long. I only mention these surgeries because none of my recovery from those surgeries was as painful or as long as recovering from my tonsillectomy. I am a very healthy and strong lady who generally doesn’t stay down too long for anything but this recovery has been a kick in the teeth.

    In my opinion, any adult wanting to have a tonsillectomy, should anticipate 2-3 weeks recovery and if you feel better sooner then you have truly been blessed! My tonsillectomy was necessary and I’m glad that it’s over with.

  3. I had my tonsillectomy done on December 20th. I am 24 years old. I am a teacher so I decided that Christmas break would be the perfect time because I have exactly 13 days off of work and my 14th day is just an inservice so no students that I have to teach yet. I didn’t think that missing out from holiday foods would be as hard as it was. So far my timeline is

    Day 1: absolutely horrible, I couldn’t keep anything down including the water and gaterode I was drinking. I believe it was anesthesia lingering. I took the pain medicine before I went to sleep and that was it. Then I was constantly waking up having to take sips of water almost every hour it seemed.

    Day 2: Not nearly as bad. I ate Jello for breakfast with a freezer pop to follow. I didn’t take any pain medicine. I drank so much water so my 3 hour ride back home to see family had a few stops along the way. I could talk for brief moments of time before I thought I was going to gag. I tried to eat ice cream and some luke warm Mac and cheese, it tasted good at the time but my body didn’t agree with it at 2 in the morning.

    Day 3: I decided to not take any chances of getting sick that day so I stuck to jello and freezer pops. I could barely talk because my tongue was so swollen. My family had a little Christmas gathering and I hated watching them all eat “real food” as I’m sitting there eating Jello. I felt slight pain but not enough to make me feel like I needed the pain medicine. I slept okay that night, I still was waking up taking sips of water but I was starting to get use to that.

    Day 4: I decided to try and eat my chicken noodle soup and it actually went better well. I had a popsicle after. I didn’t have much pain in my throat except for when I woke up in the morning. I could talk a little better but now I noticed that I could barely open my mouth. As every night before I would wake up constantly to take a drink but I also noticed that I was drooling all over the place way more than I ever have in my whole life, it was gross.

    Day 5-6: Well it was Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I still haven’t had to take any pain medication. I was talking the same way that I was the day before. I decided to step it up Christmas morning and eat a bowl of cereal ( keep in mind cereal was extremely mushy) I had some mashed potatoes during dinner and I had to constantly drink to get them to go down. (Some advice – never stop sipping water throughout the day) We finally got home and I was exhausted from all the running that I ate a popsicle and went to bed.

    Day 7-8: I woke up with an earache and so much jaw pain that lasted the entire day. Still didn’t have my voice back and it was getting frustrating. I tried to eat chicken and biscuits but I could barely get passed the 3rd bite. I stuck to eating popsicles and soup for the rest of day 7 and all of day 8.

    Day 9: Today I cant seem to keep myself from constantly coughing. I am trying to hold it in as much as I can. I even try and drink to keep me from doing it but for some reason that isn’t enough. Because of coughing I’m so worried with bleeding that I went into the bathroom to spit like every hour just to make sure I’m fine. I decided to say goodbye to Jello and started to eat some chocolate pudding which went well. I still finish every “meal” with a popsicle because it seems to help my throat. I’m still not in much pain, well at least yet. I talked quite a bit but my voice is still off and I just want to get this over with. I’m nervous though I know that my scabs haven’t really fallen off yet and that can cause pain when they do. So here is to 5 more days of recovering and until I see my doctor again.

  4. So I had my tonsillectomy 15 days ago. I’m a 45-year-old woman and I work in a job that does require quite a bit of talking. I took 10 days off and should definitely have taken at least two full weeks, as I am still not quite ready to be at work. The talking and the higher stress levels really have slowed the healing process, I feel. I’m just now beginning solid foods (I had a massive hemorrhage a day and a half after the surgery which, thankfully, we were able to get stopped so it did not require recauterization, but which has definitely resulted in me taking things very slowly!). I still have quite a bit of discomfort though at this point it’s mild enough I’m not taking pain meds any more.

    The timeline for me has been:

    Day 1 – felt great, pain meds were working well, was able to eat jello, popsicles, and even some scrambled eggs (once they cooled). Begged to go home that day even though I was supposed to stay overnight. Made myself so charming to the nursing staff that they backed me on that and convinced the dr. to send me home that evening. Victory! (Spoiler alert: I’d pay for that later.) (Also, I now realize a huge part of why I felt was so great was the steroids they were pumping through my IV. That’s some good shiz right there, y’all. I need that every single day just so I can get stuff done.)
    Day 2 – Still felt great (still on steroids), ate about the same way as Day 1. Wanted to resume normal life; husband who knows me too well wouldn’t let me. Probably still overdid it. (Spoiler alert: I would pay for that later, too.) Went to bed convinced I was halfway to healing and this whole process wasn’t a tenth as bad as everyone made it out to be. (Spoiler alert – well, you get the gist.)
    Day 3 – Woke up just after midnight choking on blood. How much blood, you ask? Well. Have you seen the elevator scene in The Shining? Or the prom scene in Carrie? Or basically any horror movie ever involving power tools? Yeah, this made them look tame. We considered just painting the whole house red instead of trying to clean this up, it was that bad. I wasn’t sure if I was going to bleed to death first, or choke to death. Paged the doc on call who said “rinse with cold water”. Advised him I was currently hosting a Wes Craven version of Old Faithful in my mouth and wrapped up that fun interaction with a trip to the ER. Got the bleeding stopped without recauterizing, thank God. Left the ER with instructions to take it very easy and limit myself to only cold food and drinks (which of course I’d already been doing, but hey, thanks for the heads-up.). Never went back to sleep because in my mind now sleep = blood. Pain was slightly increased that day but the pain meds worked well, and I stayed in bed, pretty much terrified to do anything for fear of, well, bleeding.
    Days 4-8 – pain was worse,(including a great deal of jaw and ear pain) but still pretty well-controlled with pain meds. Food was limited to cold, soft things like jello, sherbet, some canned fruit, and cold mashed potatoes on rare occasion. Very little activity as the pain meds and lack of sleep (did I mention sleep = blood to me now? I only slept when it was daylight and then only fitfully) kept me very very fatigued. There was some breakthrough pain but mostly just if I allowed my throat to dry out. I cannot state strongly enough the importance of not going more than about 15 minutes without at least sipping water! I did try an ice pack around my throat when the pain returned before it was time for more pain medicine; it worked better than I’d expected. I did nothing whatsoever these five days. Thank God for Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. I did make some hilariously awkward Facebook posts that my entire circle of acquaintances will laugh about for years or at least minutes. (Did I mention the pain meds worked great? They make me very affectionate, apparently. Guys – I love you guys.)
    Days 9-10: I was going back to work on Day 11 so I started trying to go without the pain meds on Day 9. I did okay for the most part. Food was still limited to the same things as Days 4-8 – I wasn’t scheduled for my post-op follow up appointment until Day 14 so I wasn’t making any changes until then (see: now-solidly-entrenched phobia re: bleeding). By this time I was hungry and exhausted and super depressed because I couldn’t see or feel any real signs of improvement. Netflix and APV had lost their charm and I was reduced to staring into space and questioning every life choice I’d ever made. My Facebook posts grew less funny and more bleak (guys – I love you guys even though love is an illusion and life is a cruel joke and the universe hates us all) and I was still not sleeping in the dark. I started trying to do actual stuff but mostly failed. Shout out to my husband who rescued my halfhearted attempts at laundry from mildewy oblivion. You’re the real MVP, babe.
    Day 11: I went back to work and talked way too much. I left early, went home, and had to take pain medicine. I was super discouraged by this, BUT (PLOT TWIST!!!) I woke up on Day 12 feeling dramatically less pain than on any previous morning. Finally, progress! Sort of. Celebrating is less fun when all you can toast yourself with is Jello.
    Days 12-13: I started gradually introducing a tiny bit of solid food like very tender roasted turkey, eaten in tiny tiny bites and chewed to oblivion. It was exhausting but it felt great to eat “real food”. I still had pain after any significant amount of talking, chewing, or swallowing, but I was off the pain medicine entirely and the pain was bearable. I gritted my teeth and stayed at work all day both days, though I did refuse to speak to people very much. That wasn’t really because of the pain, it was just a convenient excuse to not talk to people I don’t like. I’m planning to milk that one for a few more weeks.
    Day 14: Dr. said my throat looked great, I was ok to eat whatever I wanted (just take it easy and don’t do anything painful). [I was very very very excited about this until I remembered that oh yeah, everything’s still painful. Yay Jello.] He said that the risk of bleeding was “mostly gone”, though it was still a slight risk until about three weeks out. (So we’ll stick with the nightlight for now, then, shall we?) He also mentioned offhand that I could expect another 4-6 weeks (yes, WEEKS) of pain in my jaws and ears due to how wide they have to open the jaws during surgery. I didn’t punch him in the throat, so I kind of think I deserve a medal for that really. I’m basically Mother Theresa or possibly Gandhi.
    Day 15: Still in pain. Not severe, and I’m gradually moving up to more solid foods (yay baked potatoes) but due to the amount of chewing involved, I don’t eat a lot. I still sound like a smoke a LOT and a full day at work is still a bit too much.

    TL;DR: This is hard, it takes way longer than you expect, and it hurts. Bleeding is bad and apparently can happen if you blink too hard, so lie perfectly still and try not to breathe a lot. (Kidding. But do take it very easy even if you feel great.) Water is your best friend even if it hurts, and work should wait two weeks if not longer. Get people to do things for you because doing things is not your job till you can swallow without screaming and say your full name without pain – this may take weeks. For the love of God allow at least one week of doing no things, and allow two if you can possibly manage it. Find something better than TV to distract you because it gets old fast. Take all your meds as instructed and try very hard not to sneeze or cough. You can do this, and it won’t kill you or drive you crazy, but you will be very very tired of Jello or whatever your equivalent go-to may be, before it’s all said and done. And good luck!

    1. Thanks for the great information. I am definitely not looking forward to this. The ENT doctor and my family doctor did say it’s going to suck. The ENT doctor had his tonsils removed when he was an adult. So he told me all about it.

    2. I just entered a post about my son’s experience . . . he had found your post when he was in the throws of sleep=blood.
      Your post was so helpful for him to know that he wasn’t alone. Thank you and I hope you are fully recovered!

  5. Hi everyone, I am 40 y/o female. Had adenotonsillectomy and turbinate surgery in one go.I am now on my 17th day after my first surgical procedure and still the excruciating pain on my left ear,left molars and left tonsil is unbearable. I have had an operation on the 10th of November i felt numb, all sores all around my mouth since i had a very enlarged tonsils, tonsillitis and tonsil stones became an issue my doctor decided to remove them. My inferior nasal concha surgery didn’t give me any problem, only stuffy nose and that’s it, Problem occurs when i need to use my mouth for breathing and that dries out my throat, pain occurs..

    The day after the operation i was sent home(11th of Nov.) , all is bearable till i started coughing..I had sleepless nights since the surgery, itchy throat that makes the surgical site more painful not even a single moment that i rested. I had soft diet, pureed, ice pops and jello are my saviour not to mention 2L of water daily.

    On the 5th day (15th of Nov.) i was coughing hard then i felt blood coming out from my mouth, it was oozing and uncontrollable i tried to stop it but i didn’t manage,,blood on mouth and nose free flowing .I am so terrified i am living abroad alone, i knocked on my friendly neighbor with a piece of paper on my hand saying call an ambulance, i vomited almost 2 cups of blood..the ambulance came the Dr. was surprised how tranquil i am that i didn’t t need a stretcher or wheelchair probably being a dentist I am used of seeing blood during surgical procedure. At the ER i was under observation for 12hrs, pain relievers and dextrose was given,pain on my throat increases as i cough every single moment and i was tired of that.The following day i thought i’ll be sent home, they gave me a room and let me stay,bleeding stopped. Pain is still present and gets worse, i was given ice pops and all pureed meal all cold 🙁 i don’t have a choice i need to eat or else i’ll be weaker and weaker because of sleepless nights as well. The following day I am still in the hospital, first time i was given a semi solid food,scrambled eggs and vegetable puree,plus ice pops.The taste of egg feels like heaven,i can swallow it good but drinking liquid is still painful.That was my first real meal.

    17th of Nov. at 3am coughing still, i started to get notice of tiny blood as i spit then it gets heavy in volume, the coagulation was disturbed i saw a chunk of blood on my disposable emesis basin which i can consume at least 5 of them during the night because of phlegm and blood, pile of gauze was always at bay. I called the nurse’s station 5 of them came including the Dr. I was rush to OR again, gave me general anesthesia and re-cauterized the left part of the old surgical site. I was awake at recovery room, feeling restless weak and heavy mucous on my throat and some post nasal drip from my turbinate surgery, i’m feeling miserable.This time it doubled or tripled the pain can be 10/10..I cannot talk, yawn or sneeze without tears flowing in my eyes, the earache and toothache continues. whenever i swallow water or saliva i feel like drowning, it took me ages to swallow water but i need to keep hydrated even its too painful. I spent 8 days in the hospital on my 2nd surgical procedure.

    Now i am home, its the 26th of Nov. my apetite went back i can eat normally but tiny bits and slowly,but still in so much pain,still coughing and wasn’t given any cough syrup at all(i assumed because of the codeine content).I can open my mouth as normal, I don’t have any infection at all but coughing contributes to the painful healing process. Only the 1st and 2nd day of the first surgery i felt better, but beyond that all is nightmare.

    All i can say is water and humidifier are my best friends, pain killers and paracetamol every 4hrs alternate gives temporary relief, as of now my nose is fine the smell of old blood is noticeable, still having bad breath i tried a swirl of sodium bicarbonate dissolved in water for disinfection, saline solution for cleaning the nose …my throat is calm during the day probably because i kept eating ice pop and water my throat is wet all the time, morning is still a nightmare swallowing saliva and water is crucial..

    During the night i am awake coughing and sitting on bed so not to feel the swollen uvula coming closer to my soft palate and tongue, i sometimes feel gagging. I will see my surgeon on the 5th of December for follow up, i hope i am pain free that time. I cannot see myself in 2 weeks recovery period with this coughing sessions the road to recovery takes time.

    Goodluck to all of you in this forum, nothing is worse than having cough while u’re recovering from adenoidectomy and tonsillectomy not to mention i am living alone.Thanking my friends who slept with me in the hospital, my supportive neighbor and friends giving me daily meal. My bf who’s living away from me gives me courage and support as he saw me suffering on my first surgery while he was staying on my bedside.

    Drink plenty of water, gargle with sodium bicarbonate or salt with water dissolved it in warm water then add iced cold water. If you have tongue brush or scraper its perfect(lessen the bacterial infection that contributes to foul smell) Stay positive, we can surpass this big challenge for a healthier you and me.

    1. eek looks like its a good thing my ENT is taking out my Uvula too, at least i won’t have that to contend with. I hope you are doing well now and totally mended!

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