Tonsillectomy is usually done as an outpatient procedure. That means you'll be able to go home the day of the surgery. An overnight stay is possible if complications arise or if the surgery is done on a young child, or if you have a complex medical condition.
During the surgery
Because a tonsillectomy is performed under general anesthesia, you or your child won't be aware of the procedure or experience pain during the surgery.
The surgeon may cut out the tonsils using a blade (scalpel) or a specialized surgical tool that uses heat or high-energy heat or sound waves to remove or destroy tissues and stop bleeding.
Nearly everyone experiences pain after a tonsillectomy. Pain is most often in the throat and frequently in the ears but may also be located in the jaw or the neck.
Steps that you can take to reduce pain, promote recovery and prevent complications include the following:
- Medications. Take pain medications as directed by your surgeon or the hospital staff.
- Fluids. It's important to get plenty of fluids after surgery to avoid dehydration. Water and ice pops are good choices.
- Food. Bland foods that are easy to swallow, such as applesauce or broth, are the best choices immediately after surgery. Foods such as ice cream and pudding can be added to the diet if they're tolerated. Foods that are easy to chew and swallow should be added to the diet as soon as possible. Avoid acidic, spicy, hard or crunchy foods as they may cause pain or bleeding.
- Rest. Bed rest is important for several days after surgery, and strenuous activities — such as running and bike riding — should be avoided for two weeks after surgery. You or your child should be able to return to work or school after resuming a normal diet, sleeping normally through the night and not needing pain medication. Talk to your doctor about any activities that should be avoided.
When to see the doctor or get emergency care
Watch for the following complications that require prompt medical care:
Jan. 12, 2018
- Bleeding. You may see small specks of dark blood from the nose or in the saliva, but any bright red blood requires a trip to the emergency room for a prompt evaluation and treatment. Surgery to stop bleeding may be necessary.
- Fever. Call your doctor if you or your child has a fever of 102 F (38.9 C) or higher.
- Dehydration. Call your doctor if you observe signs of dehydration, such as reduced urination, thirst, weakness, headache, dizziness or lightheadedness. Common signs of dehydration in children include urinating fewer than two or three times a day or crying with no tears.
- Breathing problems. Snoring or noisy breathing is common during the first week or so of recovery. However, if you or your child is having difficulty breathing, get emergency care.
- Fact sheet: Tonsils and adenoids. American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. http://www.entnet.org/?q=node/1432. Accessed June 1, 2015.
- Fact sheet: Tonsils and adenoids: Postop. American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. http://www.entnet.org/content/tonsillectomy-and-adenoids-postop. Accessed June 1, 2015.
- Tonsillopharyngitis. Merck Manual Professional Version. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/ear-nose-and-throat-disorders/oral-and-pharyngeal-disorders/tonsillopharyngitis. Accessed June 1, 2015.
- Fact sheet: Tonsillitis. American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. http://www.entnet.org/?q=node/1447. Accessed June 1, 2015.
- Papadakis MA, et al., eds. Ear, nose, & throat disorders. In: Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2014. 53rd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2014. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed June 1, 2015.
- Messner AH. Tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy in children: Preoperative and intraoperative care. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 1, 2015.
- Paradise. Tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy in children: Indications and contraindications. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 1, 2015.
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- Hoecker JL (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. June 1, 2015.