After Tonsillectomy: Sense of Taste
Taste after tonsillectomy or sense of taste are subjects of much discussion on the tonsillectomy forum. The experience of tonsillectomy has rippling effects upon individuals, beginning with the anticipation of surgery and, hopefully, extending long after surgery in improved quality of life. During the first two weeks of recovery, tonsillectomy patients’ daily lives are turned upside down. The daily diet is often limited to liquids and very smooth, soft foods like gelatin. Narcotic pain medications are usually taken several times per day. Sleep is erratic and often fitful. Activity levels are greatly reduced. When the fog of pain, fatigue, and disruption lifts, one of the first irregularities patients complain of is an altered sense of taste. Let’s take a moment to look at tonsillectomy and its effect on sense of taste.
The American Academy of Otalayngology- Head and Neck Surgery describes how taste sensation works as,
Gustatory (taste nerve) cells are clustered in the taste buds of the mouth and throat. They react to food or drink mixed with saliva. Many of the small bumps that can be seen on the tongue contain taste buds. These surface cells send taste information to nearby nerve fibers, which send messages to the brain.
I suggest that several factors contribute to disturbances in a person’s sense of taste after tonsillectomy. Firstly, tonsillectomy surgery itself can cause bruising to the tongue, where taste buds reside. Most patients complain of tongue pain after surgery.
It’s also likely that the post tonsillectomy diet has an impact on the patient’s sense of taste for some time after recovery. Many experts point out that taste buds are in a constant state of growth. As people eat various rough textured foods, small amounts of tissue scrape off and are replaced by new growth. Many believe that the almost liquid diet of most tonsillectomy patients disrupts this process and thus, affects their sense of taste.
Still another camp holds that deficiency in zinc after tonsillectomy contributes to these taste disruptions. JOSEPH M. BICKNELL, MD and ROBERT V. WIGGINS, MD published in the Western Journal of Medicine in October of 1988. [Bicknell JM, Wiggins RV: Taste disorder from zinc deficiency after tonsillectomy.West J Med 1988 Oct; 149:457460] They followed two tonsillectomy patients who complained of unpleasant taste sensation after tonsillectomy. The patients complained of changes in their sense of taste after tonsillectomy. They used descriptions like, coppery, or metallic when interviewed. Both had these complaints two months after tonsillectomy surgery. The doctors tested liver and thyroid function, as well as hepatitis. All were normal, but serum zinc levels were low in both patients. They were given 220mg zinc supplements twice per day. Within three weeks, the zinc levels were normal. They reported tastes improving after ten days, and after 22 days, the metallic sensation had ended. I’ve read anecdotal accounts on the tonsillectomy forum from people having success with zinc supplements after tonsillectomy. Ask your doctor before trying the zinc supplement for tonsillectomy and sense of taste.
Considering all the variables, one must also consider the effects of both antibiotics and narcotic pain killers over a two week period on the sense of taste. The FDA does not list taste disturbance as a side effect of either penicillin or hydrocodone. (the two most commonly prescribed medications after tonsillectomy in the U.S.) There has been a connection between the use of oral antibiotics and oral thrush, (Fungal infection – mouth; Candida)
It is very common to experience an altered sense of taste after tonsillectomy. Most people feel that their taste returns to normal within three to six weeks. However some may experience unpleasant taste sensation for several months.
It was truly depressing for me that my favorite cocktail, (the bloody Mary), tasted like something from the planet salt for months after surgery. Thankfully, within 5 months, my sense of taste was completely back to normal.
If you have come across this page, then like most people here you probably are suffering from the unfortunate loss of taste after having a tonsillectomy surgery.
As I’m writing this it is 18/06/2018. I had my tonsillectomy just over a year ago on 31/05/2017. Today, I just had a biscuit and thought to myself… I CAN totally taste that!!! And with that thought I decided to write this to give you all some encouragement and to assure you that it may be difficult now but – as I experienced – there is light at the end of that tunnel!
Rewind back to about a month after I had my tonsillectomy, I was absolutely distraught!!! I had had a successful surgery. The tonsils were successfully removed (albeit it being the most agonizing thing I had EVER been thorough – I might make a separate post about the actual surgery). But upon my recovery from the pain and being able to eat normal food again, I discovered – to my horror – that everything I ate was either tasting BLAND, or I could not taste it at all.
Here are the things I noticed:
I could not taste sweet things (i.e. Coca Cola, biscuits, chocolates etc). These were all just very bland and I couldn’t register the sweetness at all.
Savoury foods (which I LIVE for) all tasted very strange! Very distorted from what they should have normally tasted like.
Ultimately, the process of eating food was just not a pleasant one anymore. Sure, we need to eat to survive but I LOVE eating and not just because I have to. I LOVE the taste of food and the taste accounts for about 80% of the fun of eating. You can imagine then how sad and upset I was about this.
I researched as much as I could to find something… ANYTHING that would help. But it was not easy. I found in my medical pack from when I had the surgery that recovery time from this issue does vary depending on the person. For some it can be 6 weeks… for others 6 months… And for very few up to 18 – 24 month. You can only imagine my horror!
So you all might want to know HOW LONG TILL I TASTE AGAIN THEN? Well, my manager who had the same surgery about 2 months before I did had hardly any problem at all. She said that her only issue was that she couldn’t taste wine after the surgery, but this cleared up after about a month. That was it!!!
For me – on the other hand – it took a while. I know for a FACT that for at least 3 months, I could not taste things well. But, slowly the taste began to come back. Savoury foods slowly but surely started to taste like normal again. I know that sweet foods took longer (e.g., it took a while before I could enjoy Haagen Daz Cookies & Cream again). But I can assure you, I do now.
So my message to you all is this…
There was a time about 2 – 3 months after my surgery, when I was CERTAIN that I wasn’t going to taste food as I used to. It was challenging and frankly, quite possibly the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced in life! But, please be reassured that it WILL get better. For me, thankfully it didn’t take as long as I could have done. I believe that EVERYONE will have this issue if you’ve had a tonsillectomy, but I also believe that EVERYONE will recover from it (unless there truly was a complication during the surgery). You might not even realise that it has got better. For a while, I was questioning whether I could actually taste things again or whether I was just used to the fact that I can’t taste. Thankfully, I can report that it’s the former and not the latter.
WITH THAT SAID THOUGH I WILL SAY THAT ID YOU DONT HAVE TO HAVE THE SURGERY…. IF YOU DONT GET TONSILLITIS CHRONICALLY THEN DONT… I REPEAT DONT GET THE SURGERY. IT’S JUST NOT WORTH THE HASSLE.
If you do go through it though….. Hold your head!!! You WILL get through this rough stage. Remain positive and before you realise it your taste will come back. Everyone is different, so everyone will experience different recovery times. BUT YOU WILL RECOVER!!!
And lastly, I will like to encourage you to write about your experience when you do recover just to add variety and to let people know how long it took you.
Thanks… and remember…. There is a light (and taste) at the end of that tunnel!
Thank you Christopher for this information it has made me feel so much better that things will get better .
I’m one month out from my tonsillectomy and my taste seems a little off. I constantly have a salty taste in my mouth and can taste food ok. Some flavors are more hightened. Did you experience any of these during your recovery?
I had my tonsils and adenoids removed 8 days ago, I’m almost 41, seriously the worst recovery from surgery everrrrr! If you don’t have to have them out then don’t do it! Just don’t! That being said I have a sweet taste that won’t go away, everything tastes sweet, which I know doesn’t sound horrible but I just want to eat anything that doesn’t taste like sugar at this point, also a quick tip for anyone having this surgery, fill your fridge with aloe infused juices, seriously even water was hurting to drink the aloe juice has been a life saver
Had my tonsillectomy 4/18/18 it’s now 5/22/18 my taste buds are still not tasting, I eat when hungry but very very limited taste, Memorial Day is approaching can’t taste
I am 2 months removed from having my tonsillectomy (I’m 45) I have a gross metallic taste in my mouth all the time. Nothing tastes right. I lost 14 pounds after my surgery, put 10 back on when I could start eating real food again, but have lost 5 again because of my sense of taste. No idea when it will go back to normal, if ever. And that depresses me.
Ooh, that’s what it is, I was like what is this taste in my mouth thanks
It has been 3 weeks since my tonsillectomy (I’m 41) and I also have that nasty metallic taste in my mouth. Everything, except for very spicy foods, taste about the same…bland and metallicy. My favorite Diary Queen treat and alcoholic beverage taste the same as a burger or steak. I hope it improves. Has anyone tried the zinc supplements they recommend in the article?
Read my reply above. Its the very lengthy one that ends with the name christopher. I hope you will feel reassured that all will be well eventually.
Did your taste come back and when? Did the metallic taste go away and when?
I had mine tonsils out a couple of weeks before my 50th birthday. That was six weeks ago. Food is horrible. Chocolate tastes ransid. I think the best description is metallic. And even thought I do not appear to have thrush again…honestly there’s a little burning action like thrush. Here are the foods that taste normal. MAC AND CHEESE. That’s it!