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Tonsillectomy for Adults and The Recovery Period

Updated on June 13, 2016
Rosie writes profile image

Rosie was an elementary school teacher for 13 years, teaching grades 3-5. She is now a Library Media Specialist in an elementary school.


Risks and Benefits of an Adult Tonsillectomy

It's been several years since I took the advice of an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist to have my tonsils removed. Long after the procedure, I consider the decision to have the tonsillectomy a good one. However, the immediate aftermath and the weeks of recovery were a painful and miserable time that I will never forget. For this reason, I would recommend those who are considering an adult tonsillectomy, to carefully examine the risks and benefits, before making the decision to have this procedure done. I would also caution those who may think an adult tonsillectomy is easy to recover from, and encourage them to read about the physcial effects, so that they can be adequately prepared.

Repeated Episodes of Tonsillitis

For several years, I was a victim of tonsillitis. This began in my teens and continued until the decision to have surgery. The first sign of my tonsillitus would be a sore throat. By the next day, I would awake to horror. My throat would be so swollen, and it was difficult to breathe. A throbbing headache, accompanied by throat pain would become unbearable; the doctor's appointment would be made.

I would never be able to see the doctor immediately and he would never prescribe medicine without a visit to him first. My appointment would always be in the late afternoon and I would spend the entire day in tears, praying for the pain to diminish and hating the doctor. I was a teenager.

By the time of my appointment, I would be trembling and beaded with perspiration. Hate had turned into desperation. After an hour in the waiting room, desperation had turned into hopelessness. The doctor would finally see me and write a prescription for a week's worth of penicillin. That would do the trick for 6 months to a year, and then the cycle would repeat.

Things Get Worse

The summer of my nineteenth birthday would mark the fifth year of developing tonsillitus. This time was different though; I had holes in my throat, filled with hard white clumps of mucus in addition to the headaches, sore and swollen throat. The taste and smell was horrible and I was constantly coughing it up.

After seeing the doctor once more, I was given my week's worth of penicillin. The pain went away, but my mucus-filled throat remained. Within a few days of finishing the medicine, the cycle reoccurred. I returned to my doctor and he prescribed more penicillin. I asked him about having my tonsils removed; he responded that it was too risky for an adult and advised against it. I finished the prescription and the cycle repeated itself once again within a few days.

Another Alternative to Tonsillectomy

According to, in 2000, the Federal Food and Drug Administration approved a procedure as an alternative to a tonsillectomy. This procedure is called somnoplasty; it shrinks the tonsils by using tiny needle electrodes that are inserted into the tonsils. These needles emit an energy wave that burns away the tonsil tissues and kills cells. The tonsils will start to shrink on their own.

This procedure does not require the same recovery time as a tonsillectomy. It only takes about one hour to perform and can be done with a local anesthetic. Livestong state that it has shown to reduce bleeding and the post operative pain that is a likely consequence of a traditional tonsillectomy.

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Learning About Acute and Chronic Tonsillitis

I had to take leave from my job. Frustrated from being sick all the time, I decided to see an ENT specialist. To my surprise, his recommendation was the opposite of my doctor's. He strongly felt I needed to have my tonsils removed immediately. He said that if I waited, the operation would be even riskier, because the arteries and vessels in my throat would be larger and slower to heal, and more likely to bleed.

I also found out that there were two types of tonsillitis:

  • Acute tonsillitis is when an infection flares up, then disappears in a short time.
  • Chronic tonsillitis is when the tonsils seem to be permanently engorged and have abscesses (pus-filled cavities) on them.

It became very clear that in the past I had suffered from acute tonsillitis which repeated itself yearly. This time I was experiencing chronic tonsillitus.

Risks of Adult Tonsillectomy

The specialist startled me when he said that I could bleed to death if preventative measures were not taken. I asked him to explain that possibility. He said that when a person's tonsils were removed, they were actually cut out; arteries and vessels in the tonsils are severed. These are then cauterized (burnt) to prevent bleeding. If one reopens, it must be cauterized again immediately. He said that if the bleeding was not stopped promptly, the patient could bleed to death.

Though unlikely, this worried me. It was a simple operation he had performed many times without problems. But it was his responsibility to tell me the risks involved. To prevent complications, I was instructed to stay inside the house under constant supervision for two weeks after the surgery. If any bleeding occurred, someone could take me to the hospital or an ambulance could be called.

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The Days Following Surgery

I wasn't supposed to eat for at least 24 hours before being admitted to the hospital. At the time, I didn't realize I wouldn't be eating for much longer than that, without extreme and unbearable pain.

When I awoke from the anesthesia, I was taken to a room with balloons painted on the walls. Later I found out I had been placed in the children's section of the hospital. It was cheerful and I was glad. The next day I was taken home where my loving grandmother would watch over me for the next few weeks.

Regretfully I grabbed a flashlight and looked down my throat. I was disgusted and sick upon seeing what looked like an ashtray with tube-like shapes protruding from it. It was so huge, there seemed to be no airway. I went to the couch where I slept and tried not to think about it. I kept being reminded though, each time I coughed up bits of scab from my healing throat.

Two weeks of constant pain followed. Talking or swallowing took great effort. I took codeine every 3 hours and wasn't convinced it was doing anything at all until I did not wake up to take it one time, in the middle of the night. I lost ten pounds and was hungry all the time. Swallowing anything at all, even liquid, was excruciating.

Unexpected Results of My Tonsillectomy

It took me about four months to gain back my weight and return to my normal appetite, after the tonsillectomy. I was getting married in two months and really wanted to fit into my wedding dress, so it was important. It had been too late to drop my college classes and two teachers refused to allow me to take make-up tests; I earned D's in both classes and had to retake them. I was paid for the time I took off from work; luckily, my boss's husband had been through an adult tonsillectomy and she empathized with my situation.

My three weeks of disorder were worth the good health I have had since. I'm glad I went to see the specialist and made the decision to have the tonsillectomy. It's easier to say this now, several years later.

This hub is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians. The reader should regularly consult a physician in matters relating to his/her health and particularly with respect to any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.


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