What to Expect From an Adult Tonsillectomy
Most people have their tonsils taken out as children, but occasionally, an adult ends up requiring the surgery. People always say that's better to get your tonsils taken out as a child; this is mostly because adults tend to experience more complications from the surgery and during the recovery. Sometimes, however, an adult tonsillectomy is necessary.
Here's what you may face when going in for the surgery, as well as how to cope with the aftermath.
Warning: This article contains somewhat graphic images of tonsils. They are SFW, but perhaps not safe for a queasy person!
Pre-Surgery: Should I Get My Tonsils Removed?
Really, I would only recommend getting your tonsils removed if you have to. If you're frequently getting sore throats or tonsilitis, then it's something to look into.
In my early twenties, I got sick all of the time. I worked in an elementary school, so every time one of the kids got sick, their germs spread pretty fast and I'd get sick too. I was constantly getting colds, sore throats, strep, and tonsillitis. I also had a lot of problems with snoring (and even breathing, occasionally), due to the size of my tonsils.
My tonsillitis was so bad that I started to get these little white balls in the back of my throat called "tonsilloliths" (or tonsil stones). They were painful and they also made my breath smell really bad when I had them. I used to pick them out of my tonsils (gross, I know) and get rid of them, but after a few years of doing that, I noticed that my tonsils were filled with holes.
I really got tired of being sick all the time, having tonsilloliths, and being in pain, so I decided it was time to see my doctor about my tonsils.
Have You Had Your Tonsils Removed?
How To Plead Your Case To Your Doctor
Most doctors are still against administering a tonsillectomy to adults. I first asked for a tonsillectomy at 19, and my doctor flat-out refused. Many adults will go through the same experience, as the surgery can be risky, and recovery is quite painful. However, if you're already suffering from 3-4 bouts of strep throat per year, it'd be worth it to just have your tonsils out altogether.
When I finally got approved for my tonsillectomy, I actually consulted my dentist about the matter. My dentist then sent me to an ENT (ear, nose, and throat doctor), and after taking one quick look at my tonsils (which, by that point were just riddled with holes from the tonsilloliths), he agreed that I needed to have them taken out.
Again, a doctor, dentist, or ENT would probably only approve an adult for a tonsillectomy if their tonsils are in really bad condition and/or the patient has had repeated bouts of strep throat. But if you know you want your tonsils out for a good reason, then I'd recommend being persistent and even seeing a different doctor until you can find one that will do the surgery for you.
Even though I was 22 at the time, which is generally considered to be "too old" for a tonsillectomy, my doctor assured me that I would benefit more from having them taken out than I would if I kept them in.
- Take plenty of time off work to recover.
- Try to eat gentle foods that won't aggravate your scabs.
- You may be in a lot of pain; that's fairly normal. But alert your doctor if the pain is unbearable.
- Rest, drink lots of liquids, and always stay on top of your medicine dosages.
- It may take anywhere from 2-6 weeks to recover.
- If you experience any difficulties or an abnormal amount of bleeding post-op, please call your doctor.
My Tonsillectomy Experience
About a month before my 23rd birthday, I went in and had my tonsils removed.
Of course, I don't remember the actual surgery, as they put me under (I was administered anaesthesia) beforehand. When I woke up, I felt a little bit of pain, but I mostly just felt woozy from the surgery.
I went to stay with my mom for a week while I recovered, and the first few days the pain mostly just felt like a really sore throat. The doctor gave me lots of liquid pain medication (specifically hydrocodone), and I kept to a diet of mostly liquids and popsicles (see table below for more food suggestions).
I highly recommend staying with a friend or family member during the recovery process, if you live alone. The medicine will make you very drowsy to begin with, and even after you get past sleeping most of the day, you will feel a bit weak and worn down, and will need someone to look after you and help you recover.
Food and Recovery
Things That Are Okay To Eat:
Stay Away From These Things:
Anything with a sharp edge (like potato chips)
Ice cream/dairy products (they produce too much phlegm, which makes things more painful)
Alcohol (not only should you not mix alcohol with most pain medication, but it can also cause adverse side-effects which will be painful)
Anything spicy (acid reflux is not your friend!)
Applesauce or pudding
Most "normal" foods, honestly
The pain got worse a week after my surgery. What the doctor failed to mention, and what I didn't actually realize beforehand, is that when you get your tonsils taken out, your throat heals just like any wound would. Meaning, scabs start to form in the back of your throat. The scabs themselves just look like white patches of skin, so they aren't gross to look at or anything, but they are extremely painful. Sometimes, my throat just felt really itchy, but most times, it felt like my throat was burning.
The scabs also made it really difficult to eat, because anything that touched my throat just irritated my scabs and made them feel worse. In the month after my surgery, I lost 20 lbs, just because I didn't want to eat much, and the only things I did eat were light soups and broths.
Even worse than when the scabs form is when the scabs fall off. Yes, the scabs DO fall off, and I probably swallowed most of mine (how disgusting is that?!), but I had the displeasure of actually feeling some of them dangling in my throat. It was so bothersome sometimes that I had to peel them off myself, which hurt extremely bad and sometimes would even make my throat bleed. I don't recommend peeling them off—you can cause more damage than good, and I was lucky that I didn't have a lot of bleeding from doing so.
Tips For Managing Pain:
- Try to eat as little as possible, and only eat cold/soft foods that won't irritate your throat
- Drink plenty of liquids. Your best friend is room-temperature water.
- Make sure you keep up with your medicine. Don't skip any doses and don't stop taking them until the prescription is complete.
- As much as you may want to, don't pick at or irritate your scabs.
- You may want to stay quiet (i.e. talking very little) for the first few days. Just imagine the worst sore throat you've ever had and then multiply that by ten- that's how it feels!
- As always, don't be afraid to call your doctor. She may be able to up your medicine dosage or offer you some alternatives
I have a very high threshold for pain, but the scabs coming off was easily the worst pain I've ever experienced in my life. And that was with the pain medication! Some days, the pain was so bad, that I'd just sit around and cry.
A few weeks post-op I also started to suffer from really bad acid reflux. The acid reflux, in turn, caused problems with my taste buds. For at least a month and half after my surgery, everything I ate tasted like onions. I started to feel really depressed wondering if my body would ever return to normal after my tonsillectomy. Thankfully, it did.
Altogether, I ended up taking a whole month off from work to recover. I initially had three weeks off, anyway, as I scheduled my surgery to be done during summer break. I tried to go back to work, but ended up taking the last week off, as I realized the pain was too much to endure.
Oh, and sneezing and coughing? They are the absolute WORST thing when you have a throat full of scabs!
So Is It Worth Doing?
It's been about four years since I had my tonsillectomy, and I honestly don't regret having it. The pain was, quite honestly, excruciating—but when I think about the month-long recovery compared to having strep throat several times a year, it was well worth it. The scabs have all faded, the acid reflux went away, and my taste buds recovered probably within two months.
Before I had my tonsils out, I would easily get sick at least once a month. Now, I probably only get a cold about once or twice a year, and I've had strep throat only one time in the past five years. Even regular sore throats are rare for me. My snoring went away as soon as I had surgery, and I no longer have difficulties breathing, either.
Deciding to get a tonsillectomy is a big decision. Again, I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, but if you're someone who frequently suffers from strep, sore throats, sleep apnea, or other tonsil-related issues, it's worth looking into. I'd say try to save your surgery for when you have plenty of time off work, due to the long recovery time for adults.
Despite the recovery time and complications, I definitely recommend having a tonsillectomy if necessary. The pain was worth it to not get sick so often, and in the end, I don't miss my tonsils one little bit.
© 2014 Brittany Doherty