Recovery After Your Adult Tonsillectomy
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 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 1-3 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.
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.
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 3-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 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 pot operative bleeding to the fact that I chewed gum constantly! Chewing produces saliva, saliva helps to heal the 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, the one who didn’t ended up back in hospital with bleeding.
- 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 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 your more susceptible to infection so build up your defense system.
- Use a dual-action lozenge. Find a lozenge that acts as both and anesthetic to numb the pain and an antibiotic to fight infection.
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 helping to avoid infection.
My throat was extremely swollen, and eating was difficult. I managed a few bites of a sandwich and a couple of crisp 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 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 8 hours. Let’s just say that doesn’t mix very well with open wounds.
Around day 8 or 9, 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 trying to catch up on housework or chores if you can help it. Take the time off work, get yourself into bed with a good book or some DVDs, and just let your body relax. You will recover twice as fast, and your body will thank you for it.