What an Adult Tonsillectomy and Recovery Is Like

Updated on August 30, 2018
Rosie writes profile image

At the age of 19, after suffering from tonsillitis for five years, Rosie got a tonsillectomy.

An adult tonsillectomy can be risky, but it's worth it if you are suffering from tonsillitis.
An adult tonsillectomy can be risky, but it's worth it if you are suffering from tonsillitis. | Source

Getting Your Tonsils Removed as Adult Isn't Easy

It's been several years since I took the advice of an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist to have my tonsils removed. Long after the procedure, I consider the decision to have the tonsillectomy a good one. However, the immediate aftermath and the weeks of recovery were a painful and miserable time that I will never forget. For this reason, I would recommend those who are considering an adult tonsillectomy to carefully examine the risks and benefits before making the decision to have this procedure done. I would also encourage those who think that recovering from an adult tonsillectomy is easy to read about the physical effects so that they can be adequately prepared.

How I Knew I Had Tonsillitus

I was a victim of tonsillitis for several years. The symptoms began in my teen years and continued until I decided to have surgery. The first sign of my tonsillitis was a sore throat. The next day, I awoke to horror—my throat was so swollen that it was difficult to breathe. I had a throbbing headache; this, accompanied by my unbearable throat pain drove me to make a doctor's appointment.

I was never able to see the doctor immediately and he would never prescribe medicine without a visit first. My appointments were always in the late afternoon, and I would spend the entire day in tears, praying for the pain to subside. I hated the doctor.

By the time my appointment came around, I was trembling and beading with sweat. My hate had turned into desperation. After an hour in the waiting room, my desperation turned into hopelessness. The doctor finally saw me and wrote a prescription for a week's worth of penicillin. This did the trick for 6 months to a year, and then the cycle would repeat.

What's the Difference Between Acute and Chronic Tonsillitis?

There are two types of tonsillitis:

  • Acute tonsillitis is when an infection flares up, then disappears in a short time.
  • Chronic tonsillitis is when the tonsils become permanently engorged and have abscesses (pus-filled cavities) on them.

From Acute to Chronic Tonsillitis

The summer of my nineteenth birthday marked my fifth year of tonsillitis. This time was different though; I had holes in my throat that were filled with hard white clumps of mucus. My headaches and sore, swollen throat persisted. The taste and smell of my mouth were horrible, and I was constantly coughing.

After seeing the doctor once more, I was given a week's worth of penicillin. The pain went away, but my mucus-filled throat remained. Within a few days of finishing the medicine, the cycle reoccurred. I returned to my doctor and he prescribed more penicillin. I asked him about having my tonsils removed, but he responded that it was too risky for an adult and advised against it. I finished the prescription and the cycle repeated itself once again within a few days.

I had to take leave from my job. Frustrated from being sick all the time, I decided to see an ENT specialist. To my surprise, his recommendation was the opposite of my doctor's. He felt strongly that I needed to have my tonsils removed immediately. He said that if I waited, the operation would be even riskier because the arteries and vessels in my throat would be larger, slower to heal, and more likely to bleed.

It became very clear that in the past, I had suffered from repeated acute tonsillitis. This time, I was experiencing chronic tonsillitis.

Your doctor will take a look at your tonsils to determine if you have tonsillitis.
Your doctor will take a look at your tonsils to determine if you have tonsillitis. | Source

There Is Some Risk Involved

The specialist startled me when he said that I could bleed to death if preventative measures were not taken. I asked him to explain that possibility. He said that when a person's tonsils are removed, they're actually cut out and the arteries and vessels in the tonsils are severed. These are then cauterized (burnt) to prevent bleeding. If one reopens, it must be cauterized again immediately. If the bleeding is not stopped promptly, the patient could bleed to death.

Though this was unlikely, this worried me. It was a simple operation he had performed many times without problems, but it was his responsibility to tell me the risks involved. To prevent complications, I was instructed to stay inside the house under constant supervision for two weeks after the surgery. If any bleeding occurred, someone could take me to the hospital or call an ambulance.

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Two Weeks of Unbearable Pain Followed the Surgery

I wasn't supposed to eat for at least 24 hours before being admitted to the hospital. At the time, I didn't realize I wouldn't be eating without extreme and unbearable pain for much longer than that.

When I awoke from the anesthesia, I was taken to a room with balloons painted on the walls. Later I found out I had been placed in the children's section of the hospital. It was cheerful and I was glad. The next day, I was taken home where my loving grandmother watched over me for the next few weeks.

Regretfully, I grabbed a flashlight and looked down my throat. I was disgusted and sick upon seeing what looked like an ashtray with tube-like shapes protruding from it. It was so huge, there seemed to be no airway. I went to the couch where I slept and tried not to think about it. I kept being reminded though, each time I coughed up bits of scab from my healing throat.

Two weeks of constant pain followed. Talking or swallowing took great effort. I took codeine every three hours and was convinced it wasn't doing anything at all until I miss a dosage in the middle of the night one time. I lost ten pounds and was hungry all the time. Swallowing anything at all, even liquids, was excruciatingly painful.

The Recovery Period Was Longer Than Expected

It took me about four months after the tonsillectomy to gain back the weight I had lost and return to my normal appetite. I was getting married in two months and I really wanted to fit into my wedding dress, so this was important to me. It had been too late to drop my college classes and two teachers refused to allow me to take make-up tests; I earned D's in both classes and had to retake them. However, I was paid for the time I took off from work; luckily, my boss's husband had been through an adult tonsillectomy and she empathized with my situation.

My three weeks of discomfort were worth the good health I have had since. I'm glad I went to see the specialist and made the decision to have the tonsillectomy. I admit, however, that it's easier to say this now, several years later.

There Are Alternatives to Getting Your Tonsils Removed

In 2000, the Federal Food and Drug Administration approved a procedure as an alternative to a tonsillectomy. This procedure is called somnoplasty. It shrinks the tonsils by using tiny needle electrodes that are inserted into the tonsils. These needles emit an energy wave that burns away the tonsil tissues and kills cells. The tonsils will then start to shrink on their own.

This procedure does not require the same recovery time as a tonsillectomy. It only takes about one hour to perform and can be done with a local anesthetic. Livestrong states that it has shown to reduce bleeding and postoperative pain, which are the likely consequences of a traditional tonsillectomy.

Talk to Your Doctor

This article should not be a substitute for professional medical advice from your physician. Regularly consult your doctors on matters concerning your health, particularly in respect to any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.

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.

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