According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery, most tonsillectomies in children are done to correct breathing issues related to sleep apnea. It’s often combined with the removal of adenoids as well. About 20 percent of tonsillectomies in children are done because of repeated infections. In adults, tonsillectomy also has been shown to significantly improve breathing in those with sleep apnea when tonsils are enlarged.
As with any surgery, recovery time and course can vary greatly among individuals. Following your procedure, you should expect scabbing along with some pain and discomfort.
Tonsillectomy scabs form where the former tonsil tissues were removed. They develop as soon as the area stops bleeding. This process begins after surgery and before you’re sent home from the hospital.
During your recovery, your scabs will fall off over the course of 5 to 10 days. They also tend to cause bad breath. Read on to find out what to expect and what signs may indicate a complication. According to ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists, recovery time can range anywhere from one to two weeks.
Tonsillectomies are performed at hospitals as both outpatient and inpatient procedures. Outpatient means that you won’t have to stay overnight unless there are any complications. An overnight hospital (inpatient) stay is often required for children or adults with severe symptoms prior to surgery or with other health problems.
After surgery, you’ll have a sore throat for several days afterward. Earache, neck and jaw pain can also occur. The soreness can get worse before it gradually decreases over 10 days. You’ll initially be tired and may have some leftover grogginess from the anesthesia.
Tonsillectomy scabs form quickly. The scabs become thick white patches at the back of your throat. You should see one on each side on top of the small amounts of tonsil tissue leftover from your surgery.
Other side effects from tonsil removal include:
- minor bleeding
- ear pain
- low-grade fever between 99 and 101°F (37 and 38°C)
- mild throat swelling
- white patches (scabs) that develop at the back of your throat
- bad breath for up to a few weeks
Minor bleeding of tonsillectomy scabs is normal as they fall off. There should only be a small amount of blood. You’ll know you’re bleeding if you see small red flecks in your saliva. The blood will also cause a metallic taste in your mouth.
A wrapped ice pack placed over your neck, known as an ice collar, can help with pain and minor bleeding. Your doctor should provide you instructions with how much blood is too much. Call your surgeon right away if the blood is bright red. You may need to go to the emergency room, especially if you or your child are vomiting or unable to keep down fluids, or if bleeding is more than minor.
Bleeding can also occur prematurely when your scabs fall off too soon. You can detect this if you start bleeding from your mouth sooner than five days after surgery. Call your doctor or pediatrician right away if this is the case. Follow your surgeon’s instructions regarding when emergency care may be needed.
The scabs from tonsil removal fall off sometime between 5 to 10 days after surgery. The scabs usually start falling out in small pieces.
The scabs can sometimes fall off without warning and are occasionally painful. A small amount of bleeding from your mouth is usually the first sign that your scabs have started to break up.
Typically, the first few days following a tonsillectomy are the most uncomfortable. However, people recover from surgery differently. Some individuals may continue to have pain up to 10 days after the procedure. Your throat will be sore, and you may also have a headache or earache. It’s possible these side effects can be combined with neck pain as well.
Over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help reduce pain. Ask your doctor before using any medications for yourself or your child. Talk to your doctor about taking ibuprofen (Advil), as this can increase bleeding in some cases. Your doctor may also prescribe other pain medications. Placing wrapped ice packs on your neck or chewing on ice chips can help alleviate a sore throat.
Fluids are especially important after surgery. Water, sports drinks, or juice are good options. A soft foods diet works best to limit discomfort until the pain improves. Colder foods such as popsicles, ice cream, or sherbet may also be comforting. You should avoid hot, spicy, hard, or crunchy foods, as they can aggravate your sore throat or tear at your scabs. Chewing sugarless gum may help speed recovery after surgery.
Significant rest is imperative for at least the first 48 hours after a tonsillectomy, and all normal activities should be limited. Activity can then increase slowly and gradually. Your child can go to school once they are eating and drinking normally, sleeping through the night comfortably, and no longer requiring medication for pain. Traveling and performing vigorous activities, including sports, should be avoided for up to two weeks or more depending on recovery.
Tonsillectomy scabs are a normal process of having your tonsils removed. As tonsil wounds heal, the scabs will fall off on their own.
During the recovery process, you may be uncomfortable. The most common side effect is a sore throat, which may last up to 10 days after surgery. While recovery from a tonsillectomy can be painful, once fully healed you should see an improvement in your breathing or fewer recurring infections, depending on the reason for your surgery.
Call your doctor or pediatrician if you notice excess bleeding, inability to take in or keep down fluids, worsening sore throat, or high fever.