How to deal with an adult tonsillectomy

About to have your tonsils removed? Considering it? Sitting at home post-op with a mouthful of ice and a deathwish?

I had a tonsillectomy at the start of July and am now about 80 per cent recovered, which means I can actually get out of bed and write and think and I don’t have to plan my day around antibiotics and baby food. It’s great. But you know what? For the first 60 per cent of recovery I felt like a small, smelly man was living in my throat and enjoyed stabbing me with a pair of scissors every time I tried to swallow my own spit.

So let me share the trauma of the last two weeks with you in case you ever have to deal with the same thing or have stumbled across my blog after Googling ‘why is recovering from a tonsillectomy so horrible?’.

HERE’S WHAT YA NEED TO KNOW (warning! It’s gross at times. I will not skirt around the icky bits):

Before the operation:

Clean your house
Get everything in order and make sure you’re happy with how clean stuff is, unless you live with someone who’s happy to keep the place lookin’ dust-free while you’re ill. It’s not nice to be bedridden in a dirty house or to keep looking at piles of clothes you wish you’d washed while you could actually get off the sofa. Preparation is KEY.

Pack an overnight bag
I was a bit confused about the possibility of staying overnight post-op, because a letter I’d been given said I wouldn’t need to, but the leaflet it came with said I might, which wasn’t overly helpful. Me being me, I packed a ‘just in case’ bag.

In the end I did need to stop at the hospital, so I was glad of my rucksack full of home comforts. I was SO tired after the op – probably due to the anaesthetic – so the thought of getting dressed and leaving wasn’t too appealing anyway. I literally slept from 3pm until 7am, and only woke up to eat (and then cry over not being able to finish) some fish and chips that a very nice nurse brought over for me.

Not sure what to take with you for an overnight stay? I’d recommend: PJs, socks, spare underwear, a book (or a couple of books if you’re a fast reader), toothbrush and paste, face wipes, phone charger, a dressing gown, some slippers, and maybe a DS or something along those lines. AN ELECTRONIC DEVICE of some sort. That should keep you busy.

After the operation:

Don’t be freaked out by white stuff in your mouth
It sounds vile, and it is kind of vile, but it’s not anything to worry about. Everything I read/heard/was told advised me not to pay it much attention – it will fade over time. I think food ‘knocks’ it off, too. Yummy.

Expect the pain to get worse
The general consensus post-tonsillectomy is that your pain will get gradually worse before it gets better – my nurse told me that day four would probably be the worst of them all. When my mum and my boyfriend picked me up the day after my op (a Saturday) I was all “I’m fine! I’ve got my co-codamol! Let’s have a takeaway!” but by Monday I was lying in bed crying with the Harry Potter audiobooks on in the background. Apparently this is pretty normal (the pain, not the Harry Potter audiobooks).

Try to differentiate between ‘normal pain’ and ‘return to the hospital’ pain
What I mean is, it makes sense that you’ll feel rough, because your body has suffered a trauma. You’ve gotta expect to feel like your throat is on fire, at least a bit. But I reckon that if you get to day seven and you don’t feel like you’re improving at all, you should book an appointment and get checked out.

Know what an infection looks and feels like
I say (/write) this because I had no idea what an infection looked or felt like. From day three to day six of my recovery I thought the intense pain I was in was just normal, post-tonsillectomy hell, y’know? IT WAS NOT. I’d managed to get an infection, which basically meant my mouth smelled like a small animal had crawled into it and died, my throat had weird grey stuff coating it and my voice had completely gone. All I did all day was sob, point at stuff, and write notes on a whiteboard, like a literate baby.

The best way I can describe ‘normal post-tonsillectomy pain’ is “sore but manageable” – I experienced it at the start and end of my recovery and it was bearable, despite not being much fun. ‘Infection pain’ is not really manageable. It hurt to swallow, to drink, to eat, to cry. My whole head felt like it was being knocked against a wall every thirty seconds. I wished I’d known the difference, so I could have whizzed back to the hospital sooner than I did.

If you wind up more on the ‘infection pain’ end of the spectrum than the ‘normal post-tonsillectomy pain’ end, definitely go and see a doctor. Make sure you have someone around you to take care of you (I was too zonked to move) and ask for some antibiotics from your GP. Some people seem to get given antibiotics as standard – ask after your operation and see what comes of it.

Eat whatever you can
If you can eat toast and crisps and that sort of thing, it’s totally advised. Apparently the more crunchy stuff you eat, the more likely you are to promote healing in your mouth, which can only be a good thing. However I got to the point where I was so poorly I physically couldn’t eat any kind of harder food (it took me fifty minutes to eat half a bowl of soup and a cracker) and the GP I saw said that it was better to eat ice cream three times a day than nothing at all.

I ended up on a diet of the aforementioned ice cream, as well as baby food and yoghurt. I then moved onto stuff like mashed potato, porridge and pasta when my antibiotics kicked in. I’m no doctor, so I can’t say what’s definitely good and bad to eat, but if you’re struggling to get anything down the hatch at all, I’d suggest softer food and a check-up to make sure you’re healing properly.

Know what to do if something scary happens
The scariest part of my post-op recovery was when I woke up from a nap and realised my ‘wounds’ were bleeding. I was terrified, largely because I’d recently read a very helpful and not at all disturbing article in the Daily Mail about a girl who died when the same thing happened to her (I’m a worrier, okay?). My boyfriend called the hospital, we did some Googling, and it transpired that blood is okay – the advice I was given was to gargle with very cold water and keep checking to see whether the bleeding had stopped. If it’s still going strong after five minutes, head to A&E.

I also threw up (I’m not sure why) which I was scared would burst my stitches or cause extra bleeding along the way. Luckily it didn’t, but again, being sick is something that seems to be quite common. These things happened to me within the first four days of recovery, so I’d recommend having someone in the house with you at all times during this period. I literally showered with the door open and that sort of thing – it’s important to make sure you’re within earshot of someone who can help you ASAP if something bad does happen.

Get an ice pack
You know those floppy blue ice bags people’s parents keep in the freezer? BUY YER OWN. On my darkest, grumpiest days, my ice pack was the only thing that really helped. All you need to do is get it cold (the chillier the better), wrap it in a tea towel and hold it up to your neck/glands: BAM, instant relief.

Ice is very helpful in cubed or crushed form, too – put some in a cup, grab a spoon and eat it like you would a Disney on Ice snow cone. Ice-snacking is helpful for two reasons: number one is that it numbs the painful area, and number two is that it’s a good way to get some water into your system if you’re struggling to drink.

Stay hydrated
I know, I know – how the hell are you meant to stay hydrated when taking one sip of water feels like you’re being slowly attacked with an in-mouth chainsaw? I can’t even say. It’s the worst. But drinking loads is supposed to be THE most important thing when it comes to tonsillectomy recovery. Get as much water in you as you possibly can.

Be prepared for stuff to taste a bit odd
The taste in your mouth after a tonsillectomy is GRIM. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was so I did a bit of digging online – someone said it tasted like the smell of burnt hair, which was spot on. I’m on day 17 of my recovery now (!) and I still can’t drink squash or any kind of fizzy drinks because they genuinely taste like dust to me. I didn’t know what dust tasted like before I had my tonsils out, but here we are. I am a water-only gal until further notice. I also am avoiding chocolate wherever possible because I can’t taste the sweetness at the moment. It’s quite sad.

Don’t be worried if that dangly bit in your mouth has swollen loads
It’s called an UVULA. Did you know that? I didn’t, until about three days ago. Mine swelled up after my op and hasn’t done a whole lot since then – my doctor told me it’s likely that it got burnt during the procedure. From what I can work out, there’s not much you can do about a swollen uvula, except drink icy water and hope it’ll shrink a bit soon.

Try sleeping with more pillows than normal
You know when you have a cold and you can’t breathe properly when you lie down? It’s a bit like that. TMI TIP: I found that every time I lay down I was gripped by a fear of choking on my own, un-swallowable spit in my sleep, so I actually slept sitting up some days. It helped quite a lot.

Keep up with your painkillers
I am AWFUL with painkillers because I always think “I’ll be fine” and then realise I won’t be, by which point I am in extreme pain and wish I had taken my co-codamol many moons ago. Maybe set some alarms on your phone or draw up some kind of a daily plan to make sure you stick to a schedule. When you’re starting to feel better, you can wean yourself off them to test how you’re doing.


If you’re preparing for a tonsillectomy or have just had one, I wish you a real speedy recovery – I hope this guide has helped a little. Try not to cry (YOU NEED TO STAY HYDRATED) and make a list of all the yummy things you’re gonna eat when you feel better. It won’t be too far away!


4 thoughts on “How to deal with an adult tonsillectomy

  1. Hii. Im having my tonsils removed next Tuesday and very worried about the whole thing. I too am a worrier haha. Thank you for your post though. I found it very helpful


  2. During the worst of my recovery, I found your blog and loved it. I literally screenshot and highlighted the part about little men stabbing you when anyone asked me how I was. This was 100% the best I’ve read on this HORRIBLE HORRIBLE procedure.


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