Post Tonsillectomy Recovery Surprises

post tonsillectomy recovery

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


  1. My experience has been rather mixed. I had my tonsils out on May 12, 2017 after 6 weeks of misery fighting bilateral peritonsilar abscesses. I am on day 12 of recovery. I was warned that this was a painful surgery, but my ENT also said the abscesses were probably more painful (he was right).

    After my surgery there was some pain, but very manageable. The first few days I was able to eat soft foods, and go out and about a little bit. All in all, a pleasant surprise. When my prescription painkillers ran out (day 4) I switched to ibuprofen and was able to manage despite some pain for the next couple of days. Days 6 and 7 were an improvement pain wise, and I was very encouraged.

    Then came the weekend (days 8 and 9). I was out and about on Saturday evening (~7pm) and noticed a funny feeling in my throat, so excused myself to the bathroom where I coughed out about a tablespoon of blood. I didn’t seem to be bleeding too hard, but I was a little surprised. Drinking ice water for the next couple of hours, I had no real issues. I went home, went to bed a little concerned about bleeding, and made sure to sleep extra upright. I woke up just before 2 am with my mouth full of blood and ran into my bathroom to cough it out. This time it was coming fast and streaming out of my mouth. I called my fiancé in and he brought me some ice water to gargle, but I couldn’t lean back without my throat filling with blood. I bled for about ten more minutes and we tried an ice pack on my throat to help it slow down. Overall I estimate I bled about 1 1/2 – 2 cups of blood and saliva before we decided we needed to go to the ER. Once there the ice pack I was using had slowed the blood, but I’d bled about 3/4 cup of blood/saliva into the bowl I brought with us to the hospital. They put me on suction and helped me gargle ice water until it was stopped, about an hour in total.The docs told me it wasn’t very likely to happen again, but if it did to just do all I could to gargle ice water and slow it.

    We got some sleep and took Sunday pretty slow. I was able to eat some jello and ramen, then around 7pm I started bleeding again. This time was a little slower, but still quite a bit of blood. Using ice packs and cold water I was able to get it to stop in around ~15 minutes. We decided to go get some slushes and try to ice my throat to help it not bleed anymore that night. While we were out I started bleeding again and had to dump my slush to use the cup to catch the blood (gross I know). We rushed home and resumed the ice water /ice packs routine. This time was MUCH worse. I was bleeding profusely, and coughed up several large clots, the largest being ~2 inches. We finally slowed the bleeding after about an hour and I was sitting in my bathroom drinking ice water when I started to feel very nauseous and light headed. Next thing I know I blacked out and we were rushing to the hospital.

    The second ER did blood work and determined that I did not need a transfusion, but my blood levels were definitely significantly lower than normal. They gave me two liters of IV fluids and anti-nausea meds before sending me home. My fiancé worked from home yesterday to make sure there would be no more bleeding and I’ve been careful to drink a lot of cold water and eat only cold foods. I’ve also completely avoided painkillers in case of blood thinning or increased bleeding. With everything combined, I have not bled anymore in the last 36 hours. Fingers crossed I’m past the drama of it.

    All said, I have lost 14lbs between the abscesses and the tonsillectomy. I told my fiancé I’m losing pre-wedding weight the hard way. Haha

    1. Hi MH. I’m going through a similar experience at the moment. 31 yrs old, tonsils removed due to chronic recurrent infections & asymmetry. Recovery has been very tough, pain was manageable days 1&2 then steadily increased until day 8. Had minor bleeding on day 3 when I coughed and a tiny trickle in the mornings when I woke after that (I blamed it on my throat getting so dry while I slept overnight?). Then I had a soft palette bleed which needed cauterization on day 9, a tonsil bed bleed which was profuse and full of clots (thankfully I was in hospital when it happened) and that was cauterised on day 12…. now I’ve woken up again with tiny specks of blood in my spit in the morning. Did your bleeding stop after those two occasions & did you need any cauterization or did it resolve on it’s own? Hard not to overthink these things. Thanks.

  2. I had my tonsilectomy done 6 weeks ago and have been left with a nasty surprise which I wasn’t warned about as it’s very rare. While doing the op the surgeon overstretched my tongue causing a hypoglossal nerve palsy. This has resulted in slurred speech and difficulty swallowing. After 3 weeks of high steroids my speech and swallowing has improved but I have limited muscle tone to one side of my tongue. The surgeon has promised I will make a full recovery but Iv lost confidence if I’m honest. Also I used to be able to see my uvela at the back if my mouth but now my tongue feels huge and I can’t see it. I not sure if this is normal or not. All in all very cheesed off.

    1. Hi Mandy. This sounds quite scary. I hope your doctor is correct, and you’ll make a full recovery. I have never heard of this awful side effect. Will you please keep us posted? All the best to you!

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