Most people have their tonsils taken out as children, but occasionally, an adult ends up requiring the surgery. People always say that it'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.
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 three to four 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 medication dosages.
- It may take anywhere from two to six 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).
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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. 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 a 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.
Have you had a tonsillectomy as an adult? Please share your experience in the comments section!
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.
Questions & Answers
Question: About a week after your Tonsillectomy, did it feel like the scabs would almost be cracking (similar to chapped lips type of feeling)?
Answer: I could definitely feel my scabs cracking and even peeling off. It hurt way more than chapped lips though!
Question: Disregarding a sore throat and not talking, how long can I expect to be worthless after a tonsillectomy?
Answer: It really depends on your recovery! I was personally out for about a week, and then just dealing with the pain for an additional three. Some people heal faster or slower. I'd say a week is the average.
Question: Is having gas common after I get my tonsils out?
Answer: Not that I'm aware of, but maybe it's due to something you're eating or the meds you're taking for your removal?
Question: When having your adult tonsillectomy, did your ENT use a scalpel or a laser (or other newer surgical tool)?
Answer: My ENT used a laser.
Question: Did you experience dry mouth?
Answer: I definitely did, for a few months, sadly.
Question: Does tonsillitis cause you to snore while sleeping?
Answer: I snored a lot when I had tonsillitis; I think because your tonsils are inflamed, it's harder to breath at night.
© 2014 Brittany Brown
thomas wilson on September 03, 2019:
i keep having bouts with severe strep I have white spots on my tonsils and other issues with my tonsils when I call my ENT the nurse tells me with a medical history and my age that my tonsils should not come out I have at least 7 bouts with strep antibotics don't work at all . I believe my tonsils should be taken out.
Timothy Green on May 09, 2019:
After using my Insurance for the last time . I had my tonsil's removed 1 week later on a Sunday morning I felt terrible & said get me to the Hospital after arriving only to find out E.R. is at the other end (3-football fields)of the building so I sat in a wheelchair , I weigh 300lbs. After sitting I stop breathing & go in & out of consciousness. After giving the E.R. a good run for its worth I wake up long enough to sign a clip board to O.K. anything goes surgery & 3 day's look later was hooked up to all kind's of "NEW" machines & left wondering about my future & just how screwed I really was . I got a 5 inch tube of plastic stuck directly into my throat - a TRACHEOTOMY & being epileptic was advised by medical staff this was there permanently & I would have to adapt & have for 8 year's now . Oh remember that Dr. that started with the suggestion of using my benefit's before they were gone ? Well he was my primary physician for 10 year's when the Blue Cross Blue Shield run's out so does Dr. Samuel Yunez ! He sent some guy into my Hospital room where I was hooked up on all the machines & informed me that Dr. Samuel Yunez would NO longer be my physician - he dropped me in the Hospital after a situation he caused went wrong ? Now attached to 50ft.of oxygen hose I have a tough time moving around & all the doctor's are afraid of my Treach. & now take 25 pill's daily . I used to be very muscular due to my job's . I get treated like a child by my Insurance & Medicare the only people in my state but just to find they are there to Rip me Off & OVERCHARGE for everything ! I'm at a point where I can't speak anymore & without help there are only a few answers left for me to even exist ? Its QUIET & VERY LONELY me & 3 cat's I love them very very much , Timothy Green , the Quiet Man
Brittany Brown (author) from Sydney, Australia on April 05, 2019:
Hi Leslie! Yes, I had a very metallic taste in my mouth; it almost was like everything tasted like onions! Unfortunately that lasted around 5-6 months, but then everything went back to normal. All the best with your recovery!
Leslie on April 04, 2019:
When your taste was off for the two months did you have a constant bitter, metallic or salty taste in your mouth 24/7?
Brittany Brown (author) from Sydney, Australia on August 06, 2018:
Hang in there! I felt the same way, especially when I was recovering. My recovery took a lot longer than I expected, I was in extreme pain and I couldn't go into work for almost a month. It was pretty depressing :( But you will start to feel better eventually! Just hang in there, keep taking your meds and if the pain gets worse, go back to your doctor! The scabs will definitely hurt, but make sure you stay on top of your pain meds.
LeeLee Haynes on August 05, 2018:
I just had my tonsils removed 2 weeks ago and I'm 38. I'm already feeling better but after reading these comments I'm worried about the scabs hurting me. About 3 days in it started to become unbearable. My ENT gave me a liquid hydrocodone. It worked pretty good but I was not given enough. Anyway, I've become very depressed. Its been a little over two weeks. I have no idea why and I'm wondering if anyone else is experiencing this from a tonsillectomy? I know it seems odd but I don't what else could be causing depression.
Omaha Joe on August 26, 2017:
I am 36 and I had my tonsils taking out on August 16th, so I am now ten days post-op. It was the worst, most painful experience of my adult life BUT considering the agony of continued bouts of Strep throat (continued doctor visits, antibiotics, lost vacation time, etc.) I consider the surgery worth the trouble. My post operative pain was ony compounded by a severe TMJ strain from the surgery. It was like having a double ear infection, a severe sore throat and lockjaw all at once.
Day one pain was not that bad, which is typical since the anesthesia is still in your body. Staying hydrated is SO important, as without that everything goes to hell. Drinking cold water helped the pain, and felt really good after the first or second initial drink. DRINK water every time you think about it...every time you swallow, every time you get up, every time you wake up (which will be frequent, unfortunately). The pain gets worse, and then finally gets better around day six. Unfortunately, the pain then again gets worse when the scabs start to fall off. Consider having a scab on your elbow: the scab falls off and the skin underneath is raw and tender for a shortchanged time. The same holds true with the scabs in your throat. All of a sudden the relief I felt from drinking cold water turned to agony... like water contact on a bare nerve. The recovery after the scabs start to fall off is cyclical....better, worse, better, worse, etc.
Now keep in mind I am very old for this surgery so my experience may be a bit worse than normal, but I don't know?!
Another thing to keep in mind are the narcotics they give you. I had oxycodone which I took every four hours, coupled with acetaminophen every six hours. After day three, I stopped the acetaminophen and switched to Ibuprofen. Since Ibuprofen is a NSAID, it worked SO much better and helped a lot more than the acetaminophen. It was really like night and day. If you plan on taking narcotics, be prepared to take a laxative as well, as narcotic will constipate the hell out of you. I took Mirilax once a day until I stopped the narcotics.
Be super careful with the foods you eat. Since I had the additional issue of the TMJ strain, I couldn't open my mouth enough to eat any solid foods the first week so my diet consisted of jello and protein shakes with coconut oil. DO NOT eat anything other than soft foods. No chips, no toast, nothing that has the potential to tear off the scabs. Post operative bleeding is no joke and will require surgical intervention where they have to re-cauterize the woundm which will only prolong recovery and cause additional, unnecesary pain.
My final piece of advice is to sleep in a recliner for the first 5-6 days, as it helps with swelling, and STAY ON TOP of your pain management.
David McCrea on August 24, 2017:
I had my tonsillectomy at age 57 to address severe sleep apnea. Now, for purposes of full disclosure, I've had more than a dozen major invasive surgeries. I've survived cancer three times and had six shoulder surgeries with complications, a cervical fusion, etc. For me, the tonsillectomy was worth the pain, which I tolerated fairly well. Eat the proper foods, stay hydrated, and take your pain meds as prescribed. I took 500 mg, rapid response acetaminophen, chilled in the fridge. Buck up and don't worry. Take things one day at a time. It's worth it.
Melissa on August 22, 2017:
I just had my tonsils took out on Aug17th 2017 and it has been nothing but hell. I wish I had read this before and I may not have done it. I only had one appointment at the ENT before they said to take them out. I had strep about 8-10 within the last year. However I'm only day five and everyday the pain seems to get worse. Not to mention the surgeon burnt my uvula on not side very bad. I'm barely able to get any fluids down and everything I try to eat burns very bad.
Jordan on August 17, 2017:
Hey great, article, I just had my tonsils taken out. I waited 5 years to do so. I always got strep 5 times a year since i was 20, im going on to 26 no. So the doctor told me i had to take it ut. The pain seems for me on my first night getting worse at night. Alot of salava is coming up and its hard to sleep. Sorry about my spelling, on pain meds. When does the salvia subsided?
Sarah on July 01, 2017:
Did anyone have problems with bad breath afte having tonsils and adenoids removed. If so, how long find it last?
Brittany Brown (author) from Sydney, Australia on June 10, 2017:
Hi Jamiegerb100! I am by no means a medical professional, but I can only tell you about my experience. If one tonsil is bigger than the other, maybe it just appears that way because the other tonsil shrunk due to tonsilliths? That's how mine were...I barely had tonsils when it was time to get mine out. I doubt you have tonsil cancer, it seems pretty rare. Anyway, you might want to Google it (I found a page here: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/head-... to see if you have any of the symptoms, but I think it'd be a lot more than what you described. If doctors are telling you that you don't have cancer, and you don't have any symptoms, why worry? :)
I have no idea where you live or what the medical system is like for you, but if you have to wait to get your tonsils out, best to just wait. It's really not an urgent procedure; yes, recurrent bouts of tonsillitis is annoying, but it will be over in 6-8 weeks when you can have your surgery!
I'm not sure what you mean by the results after you have your tonsils removed...there really isn't anything, it's not like they're a tumor or like they are examined afterwards. The doctor showed me mine in a little jar after he took them out (right after surgery) and that was that, haha.
Anyway, I hope that helps you! Let me know if you have any more questions. Try not to panic :)
Jamiegerb100 on June 10, 2017:
Im a 34 year old male and I have had tonsillitis 4 times and also quinsy once in the last 5 months, I have been in hospital on iv antibiotics on 2 occasions and then sent home on 3 different types of antibiotics all of whitch to work for approx 1 to 3 weeks and then I have it again, I have an appointment to see the ent at the hospital on the 20 June but I no that they are going to say we are going to take them out but then I will have to wait 8 to 12 weeks, so I am going on Tuesday to see a consultant at Nuffield hospital to go private, my one tonsils is bigger then the other and I have never noticed this before it's not causeing me a problem but I'm very worried as when you google this it scares the shit out of me because cancer is the first thing that comes up, is it possible that because I have had so many infections and doses of tonsillitis in a short period of time that my one tonsils as now gone bigger because of this ? I have asked the ent evertime I have been in hospital if they fink it is anything serious like the C word but they said no because it would not have puss on and that iv had tonsillitis on both sides, I am worried about the operation but No I must have it, by going private do you think that I will receive better treatment and get a more carful job done, all so how long does it take to get the results back for your tonsils after they have been removed ? Can you paid to get them back quicker?
If any one can give me some advice I would appreciate it thanks
Brittany Brown (author) from Sydney, Australia on June 05, 2017:
Good luck, Alexandra! If you have any questions or concerns which I didn't cover in the article, feel free to ask me! It's been several years now since I've had my tonsillectomy, but I'm still willing to help however I can :D
Alexandra timmins on June 04, 2017:
I go under the knife this coming Wednesday after no joke... 6 bouts of strep in the first 4 months of this year. I was in hospital for one infection because I just couldn't eat or importantly drink.
I really appreciate your article! Because I have to get the surgery, I'm run down, sore throat all the time. I'm a bit scared how much my partner will have to do to support me, I have a toddler too. Other than that, the pain will be worth it. I think we all know the picking of scabs will happen though haha ouch, oh I can't wait to have it over with. Thank you :)
Brittany Brown (author) from Sydney, Australia on May 17, 2017:
Good luck! Chances are you'll be just fine! Feel free to ask me any questions or check out this hub while you're recovering :)
Misty on May 17, 2017:
I'm 26 and getting my tonsils out on may 30th 2017 and I'm kinda scared and I'm also getting a tube in my right ear done too, the last time I had tubes in my ear I was 4/5 years old, and I don't remember it.
qdbsmag on January 28, 2017:
I had mine done 16 days ago and I followed the medication's schedule as prescribed, I made sure I had lots and lots of water and coconut water to keep the area hydrated, on day 3 I started eating more sol