What is tonsillectomy, age 12 and older?

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Tonsillectomy: Overview

A tonsillectomy is surgery to remove the tonsils. Sometimes the adenoids are removed at the same time. These are above the tonsils and behind the nose. Your doctor will do the surgery through your mouth. You will be asleep. Most people go home that same day.

How can you care for yourself after a tonsillectomy?

Activity

  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, for 2 weeks or until your doctor says it is okay.
  • For 2 weeks, avoid lifting anything that would make you strain. This may include a child, heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, or a vacuum cleaner.
  • Avoid dirt, dust, and heat for 2 weeks after surgery. These things can irritate your throat.
  • For about 1 week, try to avoid crowds or people who you know have a cold or the flu. This can help prevent you from getting an infection.
  • You may bathe as usual.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
  • You will probably need to take 1 to 2 weeks off from work. It depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.

Diet

  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated.
  • If it is painful to swallow, start out with Popsicles, ice cream, or cold or room-temperature drinks. Do not eat or drink red food items, such as red juice or red Jell-O. The color may make you think you are bleeding. Avoid hot drinks, soda pop, orange or tomato juice, and other acidic foods that can sting the throat. These may make throat pain worse and cause bleeding.
  • For 2 weeks, choose soft foods like pudding, yogurt, canned or cooked fruit, scrambled eggs, and mashed potatoes. Avoid eating hard or scratchy foods like chips or raw vegetables.
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fiber supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also be given instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you stopped taking aspirin or some other blood thinner, your doctor will tell you when to start taking it again.
  • Be safe with medicines. Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your pain medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.

How do you prepare for a tonsillectomy?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance directive. If you don’t have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It’s a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

After tonsillectomy: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have a lot of bleeding.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • You are bleeding.
  • You are too sick to your stomach to drink any fluids.
  • You cannot keep down fluids.
  • You have new pain, or your pain gets worse.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

After tonsillectomy: Overview

A tonsillectomy is surgery to remove the tonsils. Sometimes the adenoids are removed during the same surgery. The tonsils and adenoids are in the throat. Your doctor did the surgery through your mouth.

Most adults have a lot of throat pain for 1 to 2 weeks or longer. The pain may get worse before it gets better. The pain in your throat can also make your ears hurt.

You may have good days and bad days. Most people find that they have the most pain in the first 8 days. You probably will feel tired for 1 to 2 weeks. You may have bad breath for up to 2 weeks.

You may be able to go back to work or your usual routine in 1 to 2 weeks.

There will be a white coating in your throat where the tonsils were. The coating is like a scab. It usually starts to come off in 5 to 10 days. It is usually gone in 10 to 16 days. You may see some blood in your spit as the coating comes off.

After surgery, you may snore or breathe through your mouth at night. This usually gets better 1 to 2 weeks after surgery. Mouth breathing can make your mouth and throat dry or sore. Place a humidifier by your bed when you sleep. This may make it easier for you to breathe. Follow the directions for cleaning the machine.

At first, your voice may sound different. Your voice probably will get back to normal in 2 to 6 weeks.

It's common for people to lose weight after this surgery. That's because it can hurt to swallow food at first. As long as you drink plenty of liquids, this is okay. You will probably gain the weight back when you can eat normally again.

What happens on the day of your tonsillectomy?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be canceled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Take off all jewelry and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery center

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. You will be asleep during the surgery.
  • The surgery will take less than an hour.

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