Tonsillectomy Adult – What to Expect

Tonsillectomy as an adult is quite different than tonsillectomy for children. The methods employed for tonsillectomy in adults and children are generally the same, (See Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy Methods page), and the risks for adults are similar to the risks for children, (See The Tonsillectomy Risks

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Tonsillectomy – Adult Recovery and Risks

Most studies indicate a two to four percent risk of delayed hemorrhage [severe bleeding]. Where tonsillectomy in adults differs most from tonsillectomy in children is in the recovery. Recovery from childhood tonsillectomy generally takes five to seven days. Recovery from  tonsillectomy in adults usually requires at least ten days and more often two weeks.

Before deciding to get an adult tonsillectomy, it’s important to choose a time frame in which you have the time and the support. Recovering over your favorite Holiday might be a good choice in terms of time, (eg holiday leave from work or school), but it may not be a time that people will be available to help you.
The pain associated with adult tonsillectomy recovery, by almost all accounts, is more intense than that experienced by children. Some theorize that children haven’t had as much time without pain as adults and thus their frame of reference is different than adult tonsillectomy patients. Others assume that children may be less able to articulate their discomfort. Having read the accounts of THOUSANDS of adult tonsillectomies in the forum,(See Tonsillectomy Forum page), I can say with some confidence that generally, the younger the patient, the easier the tonsillectomy recovery. There are of course exceptions. I’ve read from many middle aged adults who had a fairly smooth recovery. Perhaps they read up on this website and prepared well. Perhaps they had good genes.  In any case, many time an adult tonsillectomy recovery is better than the horror stories we hear about.

Tonsillectomy Adult
Tonsillectomy in Adults

“If I could recommend one item to buy before tonsillectomy, it would be a humidifier. My readers know how important moist air is to a healing throat. I bought one of these years ago and still use it daily” -Greg

I’d like to take a moment here to make a suggestion. As you read through the people’s accounts in the various chat rooms, message boards, and adult tonsillectomy forums, consider this: People having a harder time, may be more prone to seek out information and share their experience in these venues. Adults experiencing milder tonsillectomy recoveries, might be less apt to be posting. I don’t want to drag Richard Nixon into my website, but this silent majority may be quietly recovering and you’ll never hear from them.
My advice is to research as much as you can, talk with your doctor, talk with your family and friends, and talk with your employer before scheduling your adult tonsillectomy. I wish you all the best.

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.

511 thoughts on “Tonsillectomy in Adults 2019

  1. I don’t know who you are but I love you! Thank you for posting this! I’m a 36 year old male which has his procedure this coming Monday. The horror stories about the pain level which I have read about and heard from others have been extremely discouraging and bloomed an anxiety level to which my Zoloft has barely staved off. After reading your submission I feel more confident that I will not be in such pain that during recovery I will feel like I can’t endure and overcome. Again, thank you!

    1. How did you do with you’re tonsillectomy? I’m scheduling for March 7 and I so scared and info would be appreciated….

  2. I am 70 years old and last week had one cancerous tonsil, part of my soft palate, the healthy tonsil and my adenoids removed. The cavity from the tonsil was stitched as it was large. My journey will be different because I face radiation. And my tonsillectomy may be a little different from the ones I read about.

    My biggest problem the first few days was swallowing, because liquids went up my nose. My tongue was so swollen that it was like a big useless lump in my mouth. It even had tooth imprints. My soft palate rested on it and every time I swallowed, I think I swallowed my uvula. Strange. I was on Prednisolone for the swelling, as well as alternating Tylenol and Ibuprofen. I am now day 6 and most of the swelling has subsided, although it seems to return in some places. I had minimal pain at first.

    The pain started day 5. I have a narcotic subscription but I am trying not to use it if I can get by with the OTC meds. By the way, I am taking all liquid OTC meds because I can’t get enough liquid down at one time for pills. I did notice that I do need to stick close to the every two hours med schedule my doctor approved and took them through the night. I also ice inside and out and it is very helpful. I also have a coolmist humidifier running all the time. I developed a dry cough and use cherry cough drops.

    I ate only clear liquids until my swelling had gone down some. It still sometimes took more than one swallow to get down a mouthful. My first soft diet attempts were avocado and mashed sweet potato. I have had homemade smoothies with vegies and protein powder and even a smoothie out at a juice bar. I had thinned mashed potatoes (I used instant with flavoring), thinned refried beans and cheese (a little sticky), cottage cheese, and Greek yoghurt with mashed canned fruit. I am being careful because my swallowing mechanism doesn’t seem to work right every time and I choke. I am barely at appropriate weight and can’t afford to lose much.

    I learned a lot of things from reading the experiences of others, although no one seems to have all my symptoms. I was aware fluids might go up my nose but not the difficulty swallowing. Of course the biggest problem is that hydration is key and I “drink” my liquids by the teaspoonful. I try to consume other foods that are largely water or juice. If the liquid is a little thicker, it is easier than water. I know healing depends a lot on hydration and I worry I am not getting enough.

    I was afraid to clean my mouth and in fact couldn’t open very wide. I bought a small child toothbrush and it is easier to reach the back teeth. I was not instructed to gargle with salt water. Gentle brushing and gargling are allowed.

    As most people said, this is not fun, particularly for someone my age, but it can be done. I just wish I had some advice about the swallowing issues. The doctor just says “do it.”

  3. Hey Everyone,

    Not sure who will read this. I’ve never blogged before but hey I’ll give it a crack!! I wish I’d found this site sooner. My name is Sophie I’m 30 years old and I live in Melbourne, Australia.

    I’m a fit, active woman that plays sport and loves my food and the occasional wine. I had never had tonsillitis in my life, until this year.

    I got it twice in two months, the first time was so bad I ended up with a swollen spleen and admitted to the ED. I had no idea what was happening and to the best of my mum’s knowledge, I just had a “sore throat.” I can honestly say I’ve never been so debilitated in my entire life by that sickness. Two weeks off work and cold sores (which I don’t get) all over my face including my nose, due to how run down and I’ll do beem from it! I guess you can say I’m lucky. No kids (as yet), no broken bones, only ever had my appendix out pretty much so I don’t know what to compare pain too really…

    So I went to the specialist last week thinking this procedure was along the same lines as basically having my appendix out. How naive was I?! Even though my best friend (who’s a year older) went and had a tonsillectomy 2 months ago… she warned me off the pain. I thought I could handle it!!

    All I’ll say, is below the advice the others have given is second to none. I actually ended up getting admitted (again- day 4, now I’m on day 6 after my tonsillectomy) because I wasn’t DRINKING enough fluids and I blacked out In the shower (hot showers are also a no, no apparently for 2 weeks after this op…) then I blacked out again once I came to… I was terrified. I had pins and needles all in my hands, feet and legs, my throat actually felt pretty good at this time and I’d not stopped vomiting for around 5 hours.. needless to say a night on fluids and an IV made me feel like a new woman.

    I came home yesterday, managed to eat a few morselsl of spaghetti. I’m starting to get frustrated that I can’t eat properly, or drink coffee but that’s a mental thing. People go on about eating, seriously who wants to eat after this op?!!! BUT YOU HAVE TO!!! My surgeon tells me solid food, no ice cream and soft stuff as it helps remove the bacteria build up that causes infection at the back of your throat.

    This morning around 5:30am I was in despair. The pain was horrendous prob a 9/10. I’ve been sitting around 4-5’s so I’d say mild discomfort.

    Probably the worst it’s been. The day 5 blues or danger zone its apparently called?? (Even though I’m on day 6).

    The amazing nurse I had at hospital gave me this soothogel stuff, it numbs your throat for the best pain relief, I cannot high five it enough.

    I haven’t had to take major pain meds, they made me vomit (same day I blacked out) since I got onto that stuff… so find a clincilian and get the equivalent!!!

    I’m snoring so bad too at the moment, something I never do. Apparently you can inhale through your nose but it’s hard to exhale due to the swelling at the back of your throat. The amazing nurse said you gotta try breathe through your nose, what do you know… this morning I can do both!!!! Just can’t blow my nose.. not that I want to risk haemorrhaging!!! But I’m excited about the concept that my nasal passages are working almost fully!

    One thing I will mention that no one told me about.. waking up after surgery, I knew I was going to hurt… no one told me about the swelling of the dangly bit at the back of your throat. I freaked out at the time, every time I inhaled through my mouth, it sucked back, like a flap, hanging over the edge of my throat and vocal chords. Then I would have to suck to move it forward. I was panicking. Felt like I had a clump of chewed up sandwich sitting there that I couldn’t move…. nor could I swallow my saliva. It was huge. I took photos because I was so concerned. I wish I’d been prepared for that discomfort more than anything.

    Anyways, I think I’ve written enough and I’d say I’m recovering well now. I’m eager to turn that corner and having seen my best mate go through the same thing I know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Just a week or two away (hopefully!!)

    1. Hi Sophie! Lots of people will read this! Thank you for sharing. I hope you have a speedy recovery henceforth!!

  4. I’m a 35 year old female on day 12 of my recovery. I’m going to follow the trend of the previous poster a be a bit of a light too. It wasn’t that bad. I came to this site, read the awful stories and put this surgery off for six months longer than I should have because I was so terrified. Here’s what I have to say.

    1. Find yourself a GOOD surgeon. Don’t let any ol’ Joe take your tonsils out. I think some people have had the horrible pain they did because they didn’t have skilled surgeon. Find yourself someone who is good at their job, will let you talk to previous patients, who is like by their staff and who has been around the block with this surgery and seen the trends come and go. Don’t fall for the latest “trend” in tonsillectomy. Go with the tried and true and a surgeon who can do it blindfolded. For the love.

    2. Drink your water. MANY cases of post-surgical bleeding are from not drinking enough. You need to drink to be comfortable but you also need to drink to keep yourself out of the ER. If you don’t want to bleed, drink. The more you drink, the longer your scabs stay on and the longer your scabs stay on, the more your risk of bleeding goes down. Drink.

    3. Pain: Take your pain pills. Recognize that you had surgery. On your throat. Surgery hurts, you guys. I come here and read some of these accounts and I feel like people thought they were just going in for a “little procedure” then were surprised that it hurt for more than a day or two. This feel like surgery. If you’ve ever had surgery before, THIS FEELS LIKE SURGERY. On your throat.

    4. Find someone to take care of you.

    6. Food: Don’t be dumb and try to eat a taco on day 2. The first reason for post-surgical bleeding is dehydration. The second reason is that people eat solid food and it scratches the scabs off before they’re ready to come off. Don’t do that. Eat your jello and your pudding and your broth and don’t eat crap you’re not supposed to until at least day 10.

    7. This is the last thing I’ll say but this is an important one. The pain. Y’all. I read so many stories and had so many people, including the first ENT I saw (whom I fired), who told me I couldn’t conceive of this level of pain. First, this leads me back to point 1, 2 and 3. Do those and you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble. Second, this does hurt and it hurts for a while. Days 4-8 started to frustrate me because I felt like I would never turn the corner, but I did on day 9. My pain was a consistent 4 with brief periods (usually at night or before the next painkiller dose) ranging from 6-8. This was always remedied by the next painkiller and more water. NEVER did I feel like I regretted doing it. NEVER did I feel like dying. It was painful for sure but it absolutely, 100%, DOES NOT rank in my top 5 most painful life experiences and I am no hero when it comes to pain. Labor (both of them), c-section and eye surgery were hands down worse. Hands down, no question. I think what gets hard about this is the pain level doesn’t necessarily get better each day. You can expect days 4-8 to be about the same. But most painful experience? Absolutely not. You can do this. You can absolutely do this and you’ll be on the other side before you know. This was not worth even a quarter of the fear and trepidation I gave it. Get it done!

    1. Thank you. I’m doing this tomorrow and I’m very nervous. This made me feel a little better. I’m not afraid of pain, just the surgery.

    2. going in for this procedure soon thank you for your encouraging words

    3. I am also 35 going in Monday, the nerves have started. Thank you for easing them a bit!

    4. Hi there! I am a 52 year old female. I have my surgery scheduled for next week. My 17 year old daughter just had hers taken out 7 days ago. Watching her recovery has been hard for me. I have come to the conclusion that she has a very, very low pain tolerance (😩IMO)! However, after reading about your experience; I’m more confident in my decision to have the surgery. I’m not getting any younger and I don’t want to be in my 60’s still digging and poking out tonsil stones! I have been dealing with this since my early 20’s when I first discovered I had this condition. I am very self conscious about my breath because of the tonsil stones. They really are disgusting to say the very least. I have given birth 4 times, I can do this! Thanks again!

    5. I don’t know who you are but I love you! Thank you for posting this! I’m a 36 year old male which has his procedure this coming Monday. The horror stories about the pain level which I have read about and heard from others have been extremely discouraging and bloomed an anxiety level to which my Zoloft has barely staved off. After reading your submission I feel more confident that I will not be in such pain that during recovery I will feel like I can’t endure and overcome. Again, thank you!

    6. So glad you spoke up!!! I am not good at speaking or typing, but you said it all. Follow instructions. Drink plenty of water. Take meds, get rest. Period. Oh yes, I am 64 and this did not come close to the worst pain ever. I was scared to death beforehand because of what folks said. Pretty much like having a wisdom tooth pulled.

      1. Thanks Jo, and best of luck to you !

    7. Thank you so much for the hope you gave.

      1. Glad you could benefit. Thanks for posting. Hope you’re well.

  5. Here to be a little bit of a light…I had my tonsils out on April 30th and it was really not as bad as I thought it would be. When I woke up from surgery, I wasn’t in much pain because my doctor used a local anesthetic in my throat that hadn’t worn off yet, so I couldn’t feel anything. I definitely could feel the pain setting in a few hours later, but it wasn’t miserable. I was extremely tired for the first few days and took several naps each day. Overall, my recovery was definitely uncomfortable (and lasted the full 2 weeks) but it was manageable. Here are my tips –

    1. Sleep in a recliner!! I found that laying down flat really increased my pain levels. I slept in a recliner for a week (5 days longer than recommended by my doctor) and it was much more comfortable for me.

    2. DRINK!!!! This should go without saying, but ICE COLD water will be your best friend. I am not exaggerating when I say drink a sip of cold water every 30 seconds if possible. If I went even 30 minutes without water, it would be extremely painful to swallow the first few sips. There is literally no such thing as too much water during recovery. Popsicles, ice chips, etc. work too. Just try to keep something cold in your throat as often as possible.

    3. Ice packs!!! I was little hesitant with this one because it didn’t make sense that ice packs would help when I needed something for the inside of my throat. But it drastically reduced my pain. Especially the first few days when your throat is swollen, ice packs work wonders. Try to wear one around your neck as much as possible during the first few days, and then as needed.

    4. MEDICINE!!! This should also go without saying, but take your medicine as often as you can. Mine was every 4 hours and I took it like clockwork, even if I didn’t think I needed it yet. I even set alarms every 4 hours throughout the night to take medicine. Around day 4 or 5, I decided to try and sleep through the night and that was the worst decision I made. I woke up around hour 6 or 7 in the most excruciating pain I could ever describe. That was the one moment during my recovery that killed me. Seriously set alarms for every 4 hours and take your medicine, even if you’re not in pain yet. It’s all about being proactive!!

    5. Swallow!! This was definitely the most difficult part of the process for me. Even at day 8 and 9, I had to cut mac n cheese noodles into about 4 little pieces each just to be able to eat them. It was painful but you have to start forcing yourself to swallow as soon as you can tolerate it, even if its just water and ice cream. It’ll make eating regular foods easier (and you’ll be able to do it sooner)

    6. Children’s toothpaste!! My doctor recommended this one to me. Children’s toothpaste is much more bland than adult’s and wont irritate the sores in your throat (and trust me, minty/spicy/sour/literally anything with flavor will hurt at first)

    My biggest tip is to be patient. I found myself getting extremely frustrated around day 8/9 when I was still only able to eat the littlest bites of noodles (and that’s pretty much it) – I even cried at a restaurant because mashed potatoes seasoned with herbs stung my throat so bad. Those days were definitely the most painful because of the scabs falling off. (Try to get 2 weeks of pain medicine so you don’t have to call for a refill during what are most likely the most painful days) But just remember why you’re doing this! I’m so glad I did it – no more tonsillitis for me!

    1. Thank you! Your tips are awesome. I’m scheduled for surgery tomorrow so heading to store to buy ice packs and everything else you mentioned.
      Thanks again.

      1. Hi Tanisha! Best of luck. Please stay in touch.

    2. Natalie these tips are 100% accurate! Every single one of these helps and omg oversleeping my pain meds have been the worst moments ever and I’m on day 6! But sleeping feels ohhh so good when you finally get it….Also if someone gets flu like symptoms and fevers like i did call your doctor asap!! I was treated with antibiotics and soon after these horrible symptoms went away they believed i had gotten an infection, No fun! But yes the pain scale will remain high for awhile and it’s frustrating but hang in there! And for me this was the worst procedure ever endured i had uterine fibroids removed c section style and even that didn’t top this pain and that’s with a HIGH pain tolerance so no matter what you think of your tolerance know this is a very difficult healing process! But worth it for me!! Good luck

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