What To Expect After Your Tonsillectomy
Step-by-Step Guide to Getting through the First 10 Days after Your Adult Tonsillectomy
It’s true that it can be tough to have a tonsillectomy as an adult. Most adults have had many more years of infection than children, and their tonsils are bigger, leaving behind a bigger empty space that the body has to heal. But the good news is that the satisfaction rate after an adult tonsillectomy is very high. By the time you’ve been through enough to want them removed, and have met surgical criteria, you’ll be very happy when they’re gone!
An adult tonsillectomy is performed by our expertly trained board certified ENT doctors, also referred to as or tonsil doctors, under general anesthesia and takes about 20 minutes to perform.
For both children and adults, we prefer Coblation Technology, an alternative to traditional tonsillectomy techniques. Coblation Technology combines radiofrequency energy and saline to create a plasma field which then dissolves tonsil tissue at a cooler temperature than technologies like electrocautery (which is the traditional method). Because the Coblation Wand is exact (it dissolves tonsil tissue molecule by molecule) and we use cooler temperatures, damage to surrounding tissue is minimized.
When you wake up in recovery, your throat will be sore. Pain medicine is given during the tonsillectomy procedure and you will get a prescription for pain medicine to take at home. Both the pain medicine and the anesthesia can make you a little nauseous, but medicine to prevent this is routinely given during a tonsillectomy. We may provide you with a prescription for anti-nausea medication (oral or suppository) to take home, especially if you are a woman, because the incidence of nausea after tonsillectomy is higher in young women. If the pain medicine gives you side effects, you may want to take the nausea medicine before taking the pain medicine. It also helps to try to eat some soft food with your pills.
You will get plenty of fluids in your IV the first day, but on the second day, and every day thereafter, it is vital that you DRINK A LOT. You may not want to and you may forget. Dehydration makes pain and nausea worse and also just makes you feel terrible. Make sure that you drink enough to keep your urine very pale yellow and not dark. It is helpful to drink some fluids with some sugar in them and not just water all day since your body needs some calories. You can go days without eating, but you must remember to drink, drink, drink.
It is OK to eat soft solid food on the second or third day after an adult tonsillectomy, but many people do not feel up to eating any solid food at all for 7-10 days. That’s OK, and not abnormal. You can drink enough calories and also get adequate nutrition with meal supplements like Boost or Ensure.
Strange things can happen to the tongue. It may become covered with a thick white coating, or it may even develop sores or ulcers. It can even be a little numb or even feel hard to control, but this is very rare. This is all part of the post-op experience and will resolve once you start eating again.
If you have bleeding it will usually be around day 7, after the scabs have begun to slough off. If you just see a little bloody spit, you don’t need to do anything. If your mouth is filling with blood, do the ice-water swishes as it says in your instructions and call us. If bleeding continues or comes back, go to the nearest emergency room or call 911. This will only happen about 1-2% of the time so hopefully you won’t have to worry about it. The risk of bleeding is the reason we do not want you to travel outside the area for 2 weeks after an adult tonsillectomy (you must remain near a major hospital that has ENT doctors on staff).
You may experience an increase in pain around day 4 or 5 after your tonsillectomy. This can be psychologically difficult because you think that you should be feeling better by this time, and actually you may feel a little worse. This period of time is when the initial thick white scabs in the throat are starting to peel off, and some raw nerve endings may be exposed. Do not worry. Your body will continue to heal and this will go away over the next few days. It can be frustrating to still have pain a week after the procedure, but you are ALMOST THERE. Most people really turn a corner about day 10 and can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Just be patient with yourself and with the healing process and remember it will be worth it in the end!