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Removal of the tonsils, a pair of soft, oval tissues at the back of the throat, is often done in children who suffer from recurrent sore throat that does not improve with antibiotic therapy. Less commonly, this procedure, called tonsillectomy, is also done in adults. People who get recurrent tonsillitis or strep throat infections that do not get better with antibiotic treatment may need to have their tonsils surgically removed. Studies show that they may benefit from this operation because it reduces their risk for sore throat, which is associated with increased absences from work.

Tonsillectomy in adults is usually done on an outpatient basis, under local anesthesia. The procedure involves cutting out the tonsils using a scalpel (blade) or a specialized tool that uses heat or high-energy sound waves. An overnight stay may not be necessary, unless complications occur during or after the surgery. Possible complications include uncontrolled bleeding, breathing problems, and anesthetic complications.

Compared to children, adults usually take more time to recover from tonsillectomy (up to two weeks). Consider this if you are working or making plans for any activities in the next few weeks.

Recovery from Tonsillectomy

Severe pain and difficulty swallowing may continue for up to ten days following surgery. As the wound heals, a scab may form, but bleeding may recur when the scab falls off. Infection is another possible complication, as well as dehydration and trouble breathing. Aside from throat pain, one may also experience pain in the jaw, ears, or neck after the surgery.

Pain medications and antibiotics may be prescribed during the recovery period. Take these medications as directed to reduce pain and prevent other complications. You will also need to take a lot of fluids, preferably cold fluids that will help prevent dehydration. Be careful not to take hot or acidic fluids that will irritate the throat as it heals.

Your diet immediately after surgery must include bland foods, such as applesauce. These are easy to chew and swallow, and will not cause irritation. Surgeons often recommend plain ice cream (without fruits or nuts) and pudding, once they are tolerated. It is best to avoid hard, crunchy and spicy foods until the throat has fully healed.

It is important to take some bed rest for several days after your surgery, and to avoid strenuous activities and exercise for at least two weeks. You may be able to return to work when you are able to resume your normal diet and sleep normally at night without pain medication. Ask your doctor about what activities must be avoided.

When to Call a Doctor

You will need to call your doctor immediately if you experience:

  • Bleeding. Go to the emergency room for immediate evaluation and treatment if any bleeding occurs. If uncontrolled, surgery may be necessary to stop bleeding.
  • Fever. High fever (102? F/38.9? C or higher) may indicate infection.
  • Dehydration. Signs of dehydration include decrease in urination, increased thirst, headache, dizziness, and weakness.
  • Breathing problems. Although noisy breathing or snoring is common during the first week of recovery, you must seek treatment if you experience difficulty in breathing.

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