Sarah had a tonsillectomy as an adult and shares her experience with the procedure and recovery.
What Are Tonsils?
Tonsils are lymph epithelial tissues found at the back of your throat. If you open your mouth wide and look all the way back, you will see two bags, or sac-like "lumps," on either side of the back of your throat. Tonsils are immunocompetent, meaning they are part of your immune system—the first line of defense in fending off bacteria and pathogens you may inhale or ingest via food.
What Is Adult Tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis is a bacterial infection that causes the tonsils to swell. The most common symptoms are a sore throat, loss of voice, fever, swollen glands in the neck, and visibly swollen tonsils. It can last from one to three weeks. Doctors don’t tend to prescribe antibiotics for tonsillitis unless the patient has recurring episodes. Most patients can be treated with painkillers, salt-water gargling, and rest. Tonsillitis is more common in children and teenagers but is not unheard of in adults.
What Is a Tonsillectomy?
A tonsillectomy is the surgical removal of the tonsils. This procedure is more common in younger children, but it is not unheard of for adults to have them removed, too, especially in their twenties and thirties. A tonsillectomy is usually the final attempt to cure those who suffer from recurring tonsillitis.
Adult Tonsillitis: My Story
When I was around 21, I started to suffer from severe sore throats, which then turned into tonsillitis. It became a regular monthly occurrence. I would lose my voice completely, my throat would be in agony, and I would feel weak and drained for days. I ended up taking a lot of time off work and university because of it.
After suffering like this for over 12 months, my general practitioner (GP) referred me to an ear nose and throat specialist (ENT). The ENT suggested a course of long-term antibiotics, as he was reluctant to remove my tonsils without trying other options, first.
Reluctantly, I went home with the three-month course of antibiotics, not expecting much. I was right—just a few weeks after the initial appointment my tonsils flared up again and I was left debilitated. Each episode progressively got worse to the point where I was actually rushed into Accident and Emergency with suspected meningitis. It was a terrifying experience; I couldn’t believe something like tonsillitis could result in a trip to A&E! I quickly made an appointment with the ENT, who agreed it was time to remove my tonsils and put an end to my suffering.
A few weeks later, I was taken into hospital as an overnight patient and had my tonsils removed.
Electrocautery - a needle heated by an electric current moved over the open area to seal the blood vessels.
How Do They Remove Your Tonsils?
Did you know a tonsillectomy is a 3,000-year-old procedure? It is one of the most common surgical procedures in children. Though a standard and common procedure, the morbidity rate is around 2% due to post-operative bleeding. Using a scalpel, the tonsil is removed from the surrounding tissue. As these surgical wounds are left open (i.e., no suturing), they use electrocautery to clot the area. Electrocautery significantly helps to reduce blood loss, one of the biggest issues with a tonsillectomy.
Post-Adult Tonsillectomy Tips!
- Take dissolvable painkillers. They will coat the back of your throat and target the pain immediately providing quicker and more effective relief.
- Gargle with warm salt water. The salt helps to clear out any infection. I wouldn’t advise doing this until several days post-operative.
- Chew gum. I honestly put down my lack of post-operative bleeding to the fact that I chewed gum constantly! Chewing produces saliva, saliva helps to heal open wounds. I knew two others at the time around my age who had their tonsils removed, the one who chewed gum had no bleeding, and the one who didn’t ended up back in hospital with bleeding. Twice!
- Put biscuits in your ice cream. Ice cream is so cold and soothing, it really helps to relieve some of the pain and swelling. Crunch up some digestive biscuits (not into crumbs, chunks!) and put them in your ice cream. The biscuit chunks will help to remove the scabbing but it doesn’t hurt as much as the ice cream is soothing the area.
- Drink a daily pro-biotic. Your open wounds make you more susceptible to infection so build up your defense system.
- Use a dual-action lozenge. Find a lozenge that acts as both an anesthetic to numb the pain and an antibiotic to fight infection.
Adult Tonsillitis: My Post-Surgery Experience
When I woke up, I was not in too much pain (they had given me a good dose of morphine though!). After a couple of hours, I was allowed to sip water and swallow slowly. The back of my throat was a giant open wound, and it felt very bizarre, but not too uncomfortable at first. I was extremely groggy from the anesthetic and spent most of the day slipping in and out of sleep.
After several hours, I was encouraged to eat. When I was little and friends had their tonsils removed, they told me all they got to eat was jelly and ice cream, soft cold foods that went down soothingly and soft. Not anymore! You’re told you need to eat solid, preferably crunchy foods, like toast and digestive biscuits. The jagged edges of the food help to remove the scabbing that will form over the open wound and help you heal faster, as well as help to avoid infection.
My throat was extremely swollen, and eating was difficult. I managed a few bites of a sandwich and a couple of crisps before I gave in to sleep. The next day I was told I could not go home until I had eaten a meal. Reluctantly I ordered some toast and managed to eat it—it was stone cold by the time I got to the last slice. My throat was really starting to hurt and the scabbing that was starting to form felt extremely uncomfortable. My mouth tasted awful no matter how many times I rinsed or brushed my teeth!
I was told to rest for two weeks and not expose myself to many others outside of my immediate family, as I was more susceptible to infections in the beginning. I spent two whole weeks at home and hated it. The pain became unbearable for several days, to the point where I was crying out for the next dose of painkillers. Eating became harder with each day and due to the scabs that had formed, my throat felt smaller and tighter. Initially, I had been prescribed anti-inflammatory tablets as my tongue kept swelling up from the pain—it turns out they gave me too high a dosage that resulted in me vomiting stomach acid for over eight hours. Let’s just say that doesn’t mix very well with open wounds.
Around day eight or nine, the scabbing finally started to fall away—and yes, it is as gross as it sounds! As it did so, my throat started to relax and I was much more comfortable. Eating became easier and I could almost finish a meal whilst it was still warm.
Once the two weeks were up I still felt a little weary and lethargic. The wounds did not completely heal for at least another two weeks, and I had several bouts of pain and swelling.
Make Sure You Rest
There is no point in trying to catch up on housework or chores if you can help it. Take as much time off work as your doctor recommends; even if you don't think your job is strenuous, your body will still need 10 to 14 days to recover from the surgery. Find something binge-worthy on Netflix or work your way through the Disney+ collection of classics. I did try to get lost in a book or two but for the first few days, I found myself drifting off to sleep on and off throughout the day, so better to have something on you don't need to concentrate too much on. If you allow your body to rest, you will recover twice as fast.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2012 Sarah Campbell
Ryan on April 22, 2016:
I just had my tonsils out two days ago and all I've been doing is searching for answers on my pain, now I know it's normal to feel like this , your article really helped me thankyou so much
Katya Drake from Wisconsin on September 12, 2014:
This was a good article. Well written. Great pictures. I am surprised your doctor had you eating such rough food though.
I had my tonsils out August 1 of this year, so a month ago. I am 31 and they had me on a diet of ice cream, popsicles, Ensure and water for two weeks! After that I could eat soft foods like eggs, soft meat, some fruits and peanut butter. Nothing rough. It could be because they no longer use a scalpel to remove tonsils. They cauterize them now which seals up the wound immediately.
Like you said, everyone's experience is different. Yours was very interesting. Great job!
Anthony from Burnley on July 05, 2014:
My doctor told me before that it would be very painful that is a understatement, I can relate to every story apart from the broken ribs and nearly dying one wtf
I'm now on day 7 and have had the week from hell, I'm 40 and not soft when it comes to pain but this was something else,days 2,3,4 and 5 were absolute agony the last couple of days I've felt better in myself and the painkillers last a couple of hour as oppose to the half hour relief I was getting before however when the pain comes it comes with the same intensity, I've lost well over a stone in weight and have never felt so rough, I'm focusing on the day I can enjoy my first full meal and on that day will be taking myself to a nice restaurant and enjoying every mouthful of a delicious steak with all the trimmings
havana on July 01, 2014:
I am only 15 and had mine out on friday. Its working on 4 full days and its just getting worse. I keep crying and the medication they given me doesn't help (Tylenol with codiene). It hurts so bad and I can't open my mouth or else my jaw hurts. Its affected my ears , throat, tongue and everything. I just want it all to stop I feel like im dying. And my parents keep saying suck it up . but they just don't know
Sarah Campbell (author) from Liverpool, UK on December 29, 2013:
Everyone has different experiences when it comes to medical procedures. All I can go off is the professional advice I received and what did or did not work for me. Everyone should seek professional advice and not just go off a google search.
Sarah Campbell (author) from Liverpool, UK on December 29, 2013:
Im so sorry you had such a terrible experience! Everyone will obviously react differently to medical procedures. I think its important people hear the good and the unfortunately bad experiences before they make a decision. I haven't heard of many people having such a severe reaction but that's not to say it doesn't happen.
Jessie on November 16, 2013:
I had both my tonsils and adenoids removed at the same time. The pain is unbearable and I would never do it again. The doctor gave me the wrong meds to go home with sending me into cardiac arrest. I needed CPR to same my life and so much more. I ended up with burns on my tongue and under my tongue from the surgery. Three or more broken ribs. Bruised chest bone and a hole in my leg because my veins had collapsed so the ambulance drilled into my bone in my leg and put the iv in my bone maro. I would prefer to have tonsilities off and on for the rest of my life. If you are considering having this done do research and think twice.
bill on October 10, 2013:
not nsure nabout this advice--my doct told me different
Sarah Campbell (author) from Liverpool, UK on December 25, 2012:
Thanks very much! I'll be sure to check out your re-write too!
Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on December 25, 2012:
I enjoy a well written medical hub. You did an excellent job with this. It made me want to have them out again. Not really. By the way, you read one of my flash fiction stories and I said I was going to rewrite it. It is published now under the title Th Other Side of the Dune.