Getting Through an Adult Tonsillectomy

Getting Through an Adult Tonsillectomy

Having tonsils removed is a fairly common procedure for children. As an adult, I thought I dodged this bullet. I never thought that I’d be in the position to have my tonsils removed as an adult. No way, that’s for kids! However, I recently underwent an adult tonsillectomy and I’ll tell you what to expect and how to get through.

adult tonsillectomy

How it began

I’m the Mom of 4 boys and we come down with the occasional, or sometimes have back to back colds and bugs. I had a sore throat and thought I’d take a look with a tongue depressor. I noticed a white area on my tonsil and thought that I must have strep throat or tonsillitis.

I called my primary care doctor for an appointment. After running a rapid strep test, that came back negative, she looked baffled. “I don’t think that’s an infection, you need to see an ear eye nose and throat doctor (ENT)” I called and made an appointment. I sat in the ENT’s chair waiting to get my antibiotic prescription.

Seeing the ENT

I sat in the ENT’s office with my mouth open while he peered in with a flashlight on his forehead. “That’s a collection of pus, do you want me to drain it here?” Yes! I was thrilled at the idea of fixing the problem right away and I’m not squeamish. He looked a little excited himself.

He sprayed numbing spray into the back of my throat and attempted to drain this gross deposit of pus. After a few seconds, he stopped and said. “That’s not pus, that’s a large stone.” I asked a few questions. He said that tonsil stones are a common cause of tonsil removal. A stone? When did I develop a tonsil stone?

We need to schedule you for a tonsillectomy. I sat in the office getting my pre-op instructions in shock.How could I go through this surgery and take care of my kids? I wish I had them out years ago instead of now! They told me I would need daily help for at least 10 days post-op.

I was ordered blood work, an antibiotic and steroid to take ahead of time and immediately googled tonsil stones.


adult tonsilectomy

Chickening out

As my surgery approached, I tried everything. I brushed my tonsil with a toothbrush, poked at it with the tongue depressor, gargled with the nastiest whiskey I could find at the liquor store, drank detox tea, gargled with two different types of mouthwash…nothing worked.

Still, as the surgery approached I determined that I probably didn’t need to go through an adult tonsillectomy so I cancelled.

My second opinion

Shortly after the first ENT’s visit, he put a crazy post in the local paper stating that he thought homosexuals were like alcoholics. No need to say, I figured he was unstable and I found another local ENT. I sat in this ENT’s office, thrilled to find out that his wife homeschooled their kids and was all around more holistic.

He tried me on a month of an antibiotic in the hopes of avoiding surgery. Two weeks into that antibiotic I found myself with the lymph nodes super swollen in the back of my head and so painful I couldn’t touch my hair. There were no openings at my PCP or his office for about 10 days…I found myself in the ER getting an IV dose of steroids.

adult tonsillectomy


The next day I sat in the ENT’s office. “It’s time, he said.” My surgery was scheduled and up until the appointment, I tried to avoid thinking about the surgery as much as possible. Even convinced myself that I didn’t need it! However, I found myself checking into the surgery center, not the hospital, for my procedure a few days later.

What to expect

I sat in the pre-operation area dressed in a gown. To my surprise, I was able to keep my bra, underwear and pants on! To be honest I was a little disappointed since I waxed my legs just for their benefit! Okay, maybe for my husband’s too.

I did wear a blue hat over my hair and hospital gown. I had an excellent woman come in and start my IV. I had electrodes placed on my chest and a blood pressure cuff. The surgeries were running behind and I ended up waiting nearly 3 hours just to be taken in for surgery. I did my best to keep my nerves under control.

“How are you doing?” the nurse asked. “Terrible,” I said. “Why?” She responded. “I have to have my tonsils out!” Seriously.

I was wheeled back into the OR and my nerves were through the roof. Everyone I knew had told me how horrible the procedure would be and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I watched everyone getting ready around me, the anesthesiologist put a mask over my face and said “take deep breaths” and my nerves soared.

Knock me out, please knock me out! The anesthesiologist was very friendly and started putting something into my IV. I was thrilled to finally be put out. I was two seconds from getting up and running out of the OR.

adult tonsillectomy

Waking up

I started coming around as the anestsiologits was calling my name and rubbing my head. Immediately I was in terrible pain. I couldn’t control the tears running down my cheeks. “You’re in pain?” he said. I nodded. “Don’t worry, the nurse will be here with pain medicine soon.”

My nurse appeared and handed me a tube with humidity coming out to breathe in, it helped a lot. She brought me ice pops and a pain medicine to drink. They had me wait for 3 hours before being discharged.

I was given strict instructions to not drive for 24 hours and serious limitations on physical activity for two weeks!

No laundry, no lifting over 10 lbs, no sharp or hot foods. Really an unwanted diet, but I did look forward to losing a few pounds from my Winter overindulgence.

The doctor said that my tonsils were huge, one even pus-filled and under chronic infection. Despite being in a ton of pain, I could breathe better than I had in a long time and I was glad the infection was gone. The swoolen lymph nodes in the back of my head disappeared within hours.

What Supplies Were Important

Thinking I was smart, I went to the supermarket ahead of time and bought a serious supply of ice pops. I found all sorts of pops made from fruit juices, fruit juice and veggie blends and even coconut! This was a huge mistake. They burned terribly when I tried to eat them for days.

My tonsils were removed via laser, my nurse said there was no bleeding. However, I could cause bleeding with my activity levels or by eating sharp foods.

Eating…I cringed every time I had to swallow my own saliva! My tongue was swoolen and my throat was in horrible pain. I didn’t sleep at all the first night.

Important Supplies

  • Giant bag of ice for making super icy water to drink from a cup
    • No straws allowed
  • Stainless steel cup with flip-lid for super chilly water
  • An ice pack to put around the front of my throat
    • Had I known this, I woud have purchased one like the type below
    • I secured it with one of those c-shaped airplane pillows
  • Cheap ice pops
    • Water, sweetener and dye only (no red allowed)
    • Avoid the fruit pops like I bought that burn
  • Lots of pillows to elevate my head
  • Television
    • Not sure how I would have coped without a distraction
  • Meal replacement shake (seen below)
    • This is a life saver with the ice.
    • I’m blending it into a slushie
    • soothing + satisfying
  • Puree soups & chicken broth + saltines
    • I didn’t plan on having these, but they have been amazing.
  • Chapstick or lip balm

Without the meal replacement shake, icy water, chicken broth and pureed squash soup…I would literally not have eaten anything. It’s very difficult to swallow and even my tongue is swollen too. I imagine this is why it’s sore + my lips are a bit raw.


adult tonsillectomy

Medications I was given 

I was given a bag of liquid medications. I could barely swallow and they burned going down.  I do think they should have given an nasal tube or a picc line to take the medications without swallowing. Sipping icy cold water with the liquid medications helped a lot.

  • Vicodin & Tylenol liquid
    • Largest bottle of anything I’ve ever seen
    • 3 teaspoons every 4 hours as needed
  • Liquid steroid
    • 3x/day
  • Antibiotic
    • 1x/day for 5 days
  • Magic mouthwash
    • Numbing mouthwash that was pretty useless
    • Only made my tongue numb and not my throat
    • Came in a giant magic mouthwash bottle with instructions not to swallow it
      • Weeks later at a checkup the surgeon told me I could have swallowed some for the horrid pain
  • Zofran
    • Dissolvable under my tongue for nausea caused by all of these medications.

The worst part

Pain + No voice

Now, after the births of my children (including my c-section) I took nothing more than a few ibuprofen. I am tolerating swallowing the medications listed above as I can but I do wish I had some way of receiving medication that did not include swallowing! Ouch.

I’m currently on day 4 and I still don’t have my voice. My throat is still super painful and swallowing is tough. I have managed to eat several bowls of chicken broth with saltine crackers mashed and turned into mush. This helped a lot with nausea from taking the other medications.

Pain is awful. I consider myself to have a high pain tolerance. I rarely take any drugs…however, I have to take my medication around the clock or I’m in terrible throat pain. I thought it would subside within a few days, but on day 4 I still feel terrible.

This is worse than having a baby

Day 7 and I woke up in horrible, wicked pain again. That seems to be how every morning starts. I take my pain medicine at around midnight and wake up at 5 AM in excruitiating pain. I stand in the kitchen and sip my liquid medicine with the iciest water I can make.

Still glad they’re gone, but be prepared! Planning on setting an alarm to wake myself up at hour 4 to get ahead of the pain.


So, it turns out that Vicodin + all the drugs I received during surgery are super constipating. I’m eating the pureed squash soup and ended up needing some Miralax. Sorry if that’s TMI but no one told me so I’m going to tell you! Be prepared, no one wants to run to buy Miralax recovering from a tonsil surgery.

Would I do it again?

I’m so glad they’re gone. But, this is not an easy recovery. I left the surgery center with instructions like “Make sure you’re not alone at night in case you start bleeding” and warnings about bleeding to death if I dislodge a scab days 7-14 by eating something sharp.

I would do it again, despite this misery, because I can already tell that I’ve had something diseased removed from my body and it’s only up from here! The surgeon told me that I was probably feeling poor for awhile and he was right! Goodbye and good riddance to my tonsils.

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2 years ago

Encouraging review that mirrored my personal recent experience. I was nervous, pushing 40 years old, & knew this would be the worst. I had mine out last week. It’s been unlike any other pain I’ve had, but I know it will be worth it. Mine were removed due to stones.
Thank you for your honesty!

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