How Long Does It Take to Recover From a Tonsillectomy?

Girl eating soft food after surgery.
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If you are planning a tonsillectomy for yourself or your child, you probably want to know how long you should schedule off of work or school. Since everyone is different, there is no exact answer to that question—your body will heal on its own time. Your recovery time will also depend on the method your doctor uses to remove your tonsils. It's a lot to factor in, but we can give you some estimates that might help with pre-surgery planning.

Tonsillectomies are routinely performed on a same-day basis, but don't let that fool you into thinking you'll be back to work the next day. While you will be given pain medication to make you as comfortable as possible, you can expect to be sore, nauseous, or just lacking an appetite after having your tonsils removed. You will also probably feel more tired than usual and want to sleep.

Reasons for Hospitalization After Tonsillectomy

Normally you should expect to have a ride home following your surgery. However, there are some planned and unplanned circumstances that may require spending the night in the hospital. If you have any complications during your surgery, like failure to maintain oxygen levels or bleeding that is difficult to control, you will be admitted to the hospital. While these instances are relatively rare, they do occur. When looking for a surgical center, you should plan for centers that have the ability to admit to a hospital.

Your doctor will likely know if you are at increased risk for having complications or extra monitoring for surgery. Common cases that will increase your potential need for a planned post-operative hospitalization include:

  • Children under the age of 3
  • Obstructive sleep apnea that affects other organs
  • A complicated medical history that may require additional monitoring after anesthesia

Tonsillectomy Recovery Timeframe

In addition to the method your surgeon uses to remove your tonsils, the amount of time it takes you to recover will depend on many factors, including your age, overall health, and how well you take care of yourself after surgery.

You may have heard that the older you are, the harder it is to recover from a tonsillectomy—it is true. Small children just bounce back sooner than the rest of us. Different age groups recover at different intervals. While you will feel better in a few weeks, the actual tonsillectomy will take about one year to completely heal. Here is a breakdown of the average healing tonsillectomy recovery times:

Children Aged 2 to 5

  • Feeling better: Usually in a few days
  • Back to normal activities: By two weeks (keep in mind that children this age will usually want to engage in normal activities before this, but because there is an increased risk of bleeding seven to 10 days after surgery, they should still take it easy)

Children Aged 5 to 12

  • Feeling better: Sometime within the first week
  • Able to eat solid foods: Two weeks
  • Back to normal activities: Two weeks
  • Completely healed: One year

Adolescents Aged 12 to 19

  • Feeling better: About two weeks
  • Able to eat solid foods: Two weeks
  • Back to normal activities: Two weeks
  • Completely healed: One year

Healthy Adults Aged 19 and Older

  • Feeling better: About two weeks
  • Able to eat solid foods: Two weeks
  • Back to normal activities: Two to three weeks
  • Completely healed: One year

You may feel like eating solid foods, but because of an increased risk for bleeding seven to 10 days after surgery when the scabs slough off, you may want to wait two weeks (but always follow your doctor's instructions regarding diet).

Management of Symptoms During Recovery

Pain is one of the most common symptoms experienced after having a tonsillectomy. Post-surgical pain can affect your ability to eat and drink. Staying hydrated is very important while recovering from a tonsillectomy. If you do not stay adequately hydrated, you will have an increased risk of needing to be seen in the emergency department and potentially require hospitalization for symptoms of dehydration.

Your doctor will likely prescribe a narcotic medication for pain control. Common pain medications include Lortab (hydrocodone) and Percocet (oxycodone). These medications may make you drowsy and potential nauseous. If this is the case, you may want to try sticking to over-the-counter medications like Tylenol and ibuprofen. Over-the-counter medications commonly help control the pain and still allow you the ability to drive, which you should not do if you have taken a narcotic.

Nausea and vomiting can be common symptoms but generally resolve within the first day unless you are sensitive to the prescribed pain medications. If nausea and vomiting are a problem, contact your physician and they can start you on anti-nausea medications like Zofran (ondansetron). Vomiting will be very irritable to your surgical site, so deal with it as soon as possible if it is an issue for you.

While there are generally no restrictions on your diet, you will likely want to stay with soft foods for about two weeks. It was believed that eating hard foods would cause bleeding at your surgical site, however, this is not really supported anymore. It is best to follow the advice of your surgeon following your surgery, as there can always be special cases that would increase or decrease your restrictions.

Going Back to School After a Tonsillectomy

There are not usually any activities that would cause harm when recovering from a tonsillectomy. In general, your doctor will recommend avoiding strenuous activity for two weeks. A child's doctor will also likely recommend that the child stays home from school for one week. When the child returns to school, you will want to ensure that you send her with food appropriate for what she can tolerate.

A Word From Verywell

You should not be discouraged if your recovery time does not fit into these approximations, but do call your doctor if you have any bright red bleeding, a fever, uncontrollable pain, or any other concerns. If you have any underlying health issues, such as diabetes, or have a weakened immune system, you will likely take longer to recover.

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