Tonsillectomy Recovery for Adults

Why Do I Care About Your Tonsillectomy?

The topic of tonsillectomies and recovery from them has recently become an interesting and personal topic for me. I had to have my tonsils removed about a month ago. I learned a lot about the surgery and recovery that I am eager to share with other adults who may be going through the same treatment.

The information I will be sharing is from my ear, nose and throat doctor who performed the tonsillectomy. He and his nurses gave me a lot of paperwork which detailed how the surgery would go and what would be involved in the recovery. I will also be sharing with you additional information I learned from going through the experience myself.

Not all the information you find on the internet about tonsillectomies are up to date so I felt it was important to give an updated lay out of how recovery goes and what you can do to make it better.

Benefits of Certain Liquid Diet Foods

Food Item
Recommended Brands
Frozen, Made with fruit and veggies
Ice Cream
Frozen, Needed Calories
Frozen Yorgurt
Frozen, Protein, Probiotics
Protein Drink
Cold, Protein, Needed Calories
Water and Ice
Frozen, Fruit and Veggies
Dole Shakers
Cold, Needed Calories
V8 Fusion
Cold, Calcium, Calories, Protein
Chicken or Beef Broth
Hydrates, Warm, Fights Infections

How Do I Prepare?

The most important thing to do when getting a tonsillectomy is to prepare before hand. There are some things you will need to have in order because of the recovery time and the recovery itself. Believe me when I say you will not want to do anything for at least a week and a half after your treatment.

No matter what people will say to you about tonsillectomies, this is a major surgery. Your doctor is not exaggerating when he tells you that. You are having lymph nodes removed from the back of your mouth. Your body needs time to recover from this and it will require that you get some help as well.

To prepare you will first want to find a few people who can help you out. You will, of course, need a family member or good friend to drive you to and from the hospital on the day of surgery. You will also need someone to stay with you for at least the first couple days after your tonsillectomy. This is important because there is a risk of bleeding for the first couple days after the surgery and you will need someone with you in case you need to go back to the hospital. I had family members stay with me for a week and it was great. I did not have to go back to the hospital or anything but they helped me a great deal while they stayed with me. They prepared food for me when I needed it, helped me keep track of when I took my medications (that can be hard to do with some of the pain killers they give you), and kept my house clean.

You will also need some items to help you recover and heal properly after you arrive home from the hospital. The first items you will need are liquid diet foods. These include:

  • Popsilces
  • Ice Cream or Frozen Yogurt (yogurt is healthier)
  • Ensure or another protein drink
  • Ice and water
  • Ingredients for smoothies
  • Juices (Grape or apple are the best)
  • Milk (Whole is best because you will need the calories)
  • Chicken or Beef Broth

You will also want some soft foods in your fridge for week two, when you can start including them again. Some of the ones I included were:

  • Eggs
  • Soft Cheeses (Queso Fresco was the best for me)
  • Soft meats (Ground beef or chicken)
  • Oatmeal
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Soft fruits and veggetables

You will also need some non food items. The most important of these is a humidifier. There are a million different types out there. The best one for you will depend on the size of the room you will be spending your time in and your preferences. Having a humidifier is essential because the key to healing is keeping your throat moist. This will help keep the pain at bay also.
You will also want an ice pack that you can put on you lower jaw or neck. This will help with pain and swelling.

A Real Tonsillectomy- Do not watch if it makes you ill!

What Happens During a Tonsillectomy?

***Before you read this I would like to warn you that the video to the right is a video of a real surgery. Therefore it is graphic. Please keep that in mind if you are sensative to it!***

First, I want to give a summary of what happens when you get a tonsillectomy. Your doctor probably already gave you a general run down of how it works but I will give you some additional details. Hopefully this information will help you feel more confident as you go in for yours.

The first thing you need to know is that your doctor is going to have you fast for eight to twelve hours before the surgery. This means no food or drink for that period of time. Not even water. When you check into the hospital for your tonsillectomy, they will ask you, about every five minutes, when you last ate. It is very important to listen to your doctor and fast for the period of time they tell you to. The reason is if the anesthesia upsets your stomach, they do not want you to become ill. This could cause you to choke while in surgery.

Once you have checked into the hospital you will be brought to a room to prepare for surgery. A nurse will take your vitals and get you hooked up to an I.V. to keep you hydrated. Through this I.V., they will also administer other medications before during and after the surgery. Some of these include the anesthesia, some painkillers and a drug to help you relax before surgery begins. The nurse who is preping you before surgery will also ask you some questions about your health, medications and allergies to ensure their records are up to date. You will need to be as specific as possible when answering these to ensure they are aware of any allergies or adverse reactions you may have to certain medications or treatments.

The surgeon will then come and speak with you. He will make sure the nurse has set everything up properly. He will also double check your vitals and go over what will happen during and after the tonsillectomy.

From there the nurse, depending on the hospital, may give you a drug via the the I.V. to help you relax. This drug works fast and is strong. The nurse gave it me and about three minutes later I felt it kick in. The next thing I remembered was waking up after the surgery was over.

You are then brought into the operating room, where the anesthesiologist will administer the anesthesia. They will monitor your vitals for a few minutes to make sure you have had a positive reaction to it. Tonsillectomies used to be performed with a scalpel and stitches. However, most doctors perform it by cauterizing the tonsils. This causes less bleeding during the surgery, it does not require stitches and allows for a shorter recovery time; three weeks for most adults.

Once the tonsillectomy is complete, you will be brought into the recovery room. You are monitored until you wake up and are responsive. The nurse will then give you a couple of popsicles, broken up in a cup, to eat. The nurse will also talk to you and ask you a few questions to find out what your pain level is and to make sure you can speak. Once you have shown that you can eat these popsicles and that you can speak, they will give you some instruction and send you home with some prescriptions. One is a painkiller and the other is an antibiotic.

Have you had a tonsillectomy? What was the most difficult period of healing for you?

  • Days 1-2
  • Days 3-7
  • Days 8-11
  • Days 11-14
  • Days 14-21
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Recovery From Your Tonsillectomy

Okay, so you survived the surgery. What now? Now you need to take the time to recover. Your doctor will tell you that it takes about three weeks to recover from a tonsillectomy. This is true for the acute recovery. You may still have some side effects for a lot longer than three weeks. I will talk about what some of these are later.

First I want to tell you some of the rules my doctor gave me for my recovery time. For two weeks you will not be allowed to do any aerobic or weight bearing activities such as working out. You will also be told not to scream or yell (this should be a given). Take this time to relax and recover. You will be encouraged to participate in quiet activities such as watching t.v., reading, doing homework, board games, card games, etc. You will also need to avoid driving while you are on the pain killers your doctor prescribed for you. This is part of the reason you want to find someone to stay with you and help you out. If you are a smoker, you will not be able to smoke for two weeks. Smoking can delay the healing process. You also cannot take any N SAID pain relievers such as Ibuprofen for three weeks as it thins the blood and could cause bleeding.

Now that I have gone over the basic dos and donts after surgery, I am going to go through your days of recovery and let you know what to expect and what you can do to make the recovery process better. Please remember that everyone's recovery is different so what I list here may not be exactly what you experience.

Days 1 and 2. These first two days, believe it or not are the easiest. This is in part because the drugs you are given at the hospital, to help with pain and swelling, are still in your system. You will have some pain and you may have some nausea and swelling. The most important thing to do the first two days is rest and drink a lot of ice water. My doctor recommended drinking 8 oz of water every hour. You will also want to eat a lot of popsicles and jello. During the first 24 hours your doctor will tell you not to eat or drink anything red. The reason is to because the first 24 hours is when you are at the highest risk of bleeding and if you eat or drink something red, you may have a hard time telling if you are bleeding or if it was what you ate. Also during the first 24-48 hours, you want to avoid dairy. This, as my doctor told me is because dairy products can cause phlegm to form and you want to avoid this during the first 48 hours. You will also need to stay on top of the pain medication you doctor prescribed you. If the prescription should be taken every four hours, make sure you do that in order to stay ahead of the pain. For this first week you will need to have you humidifier running non-stop in the room you are spending most of your time. You will also want to make sure that you only sleep a couple hours at a time so that you can get up drink or eat something in order to keep your throat moist.

Days 3-7. These are the toughest days (at least they were for me). As the paperwork from my doctor specified, this is when your throat discomfort is the worst. For me the pain and swelling got worse on day 3 and continued to get worse all the way through day 8. In order to keep the pain and swelling at a bearable level, keep drinking ice water. Tons of it! Stay on top of your pain medication and eat lots of popsicles and ice cream/frozen yogurt. Your will also be able to eat the Ensure, juice, broth and other liquid diet foods you have. The key is to keep your throat moist and cold. Remember, do not sleep too long. The longest you want to go without drinking something is a couple hours. Any longer than that and you will be in immense pain. The most important thing to remember during this time is to be patient. This is the least fun time but it will not last forever.

Days 8-10. This is when you will finally start to feel some relief. However, you still want to take things slow. This is when the pain and swelling start to go down and you are able to eat more solid foods like eggs and soft cheeses and meats. You will still want to drink plenty of cold water and keep the popsicles coming during this period of time. You will also want to be careful about how much you try to do during this time period. I started feeling better and tried to clean my house. I felt awful the next day because I tried to do too much! So rest and be patient!

Days 10-14. I was just exhausted during this time. I felt better in terms of pain but I was really tired. You will also want to continue to drink plenty of water in order to help the swelling go down. Slowly start to add more solid foods back into your diet. The rule of thumb I used was if it hurts to swallow it, don't eat it yet. By this time though you should be able to eat almost anything again. Your throat may still hurt when you yawn or talk for a long time but that is normal.

Days 15-21. By this time, if you are feeling better, you will be able to return to work. But you still want to take things slow. You will, most likely, still feel tired which is normal. All I could do the first few weeks back at work was go to work and go home. During this time you will have your follow up appointment with your ear, nose and throat doctor. This is a great time to let him know any symptoms you are still having and ask him any questions you have about them. My doctor was great and answered all my questions. He helped me realize that the symptoms I was feeling were normal and expected.

Layout of Your Tonsils and Uvula


Its Been Three Weeks and I Still Have Some Side Effects

Three weeks after my tonsillectomy I still had some symptoms. My uvula which is that thing that hangs down in the back of your throat (see picture above), was still really swollen. The swelling was making hard to sleep and I still had some pain in my ears and on the right side of my throat when I swallowed.

If you still have some of these side effects after three weeks. Don't panic. These side effects are normal. If you are worried at all about them or if they are extreme, you will want to contact your doctor. If the doctor is concerned, he may prescribe something to help you with these symptoms.

As I mentioned earlier, patience is so important here. My doctor gave me some steroids to help the swelling go down. I took the full prescription and then called him because I was still swollen. He then let me know that steroids take some time to work and that it may be a couple more weeks before the swelling is gone. He reminded me that I had major surgery and that everyone heals differently. He also reminded me that despite the swelling, I had healed really well from the surgery. Later that day I was talking to a friend who had the same surgery last year and she let me know that she was swollen for a month or two after her tonsillectomy.My swelling is going down but it is a very slow process. Just remember, this too shall pass. Hang in there!

The best part of having this surgery is that I am not sick with tonsillitis every other week anymore. I have had issues with my tonsils since I was six years old and I am finally free! Despite the time it can take to completely heal, a tonsillectomy is worth it if your tonsils are making you ill.

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