How Long Does It Take to Recover From a Tonsillectomy?

If you're planning a tonsillectomy for yourself or your child, you may want to know how long it will be after your tonsils are taken out until you fully recover. There's no single answer to the question.

While kids tend to bounce back in a few days, adults may take as long as a couple of weeks to feel better. This can be affected by several factors, such as how the procedure is performed.

This article is meant to give you some guidance for your pre-surgery planning. It will help you know what to expect after a tonsillectomy and how best to ensure your recovery is as smooth—and quick—as possible.

tonsillectomy recovery
Verywell / Cindy Chung

Recovery Timeline

The amount of time it takes to recover from a tonsillectomy will depend on many factors, including the surgical technique that's used. The age and overall health of the person will matter. So will your ability to follow a healthcare provider's instructions after surgery, and how closely you do so.

You may have heard that the older you are, the harder it is to recover from a tonsillectomy—and that's true. Different age groups recover at different rates.

Small children tend to recover sooner than everyone else. They usually feel better after a few days. Older kids (ages 5 to 12) can take a few more days. Teens and adults will likely take about two weeks to bounce back.

One possible reason adults may have a tougher time is that the older you are, the harder it can be for the surgeon to remove your tonsils. Scar tissue builds up on tonsils over time. The more you have, the more difficult it is to remove. This, however, does not fully account for the differences in postoperative pain and recovery times.

Recap

Small kids often feel better a few days after getting their tonsils removed. Children between ages 5 and 12 need a little more time. Teens and adults can expect to recover for about two weeks.

How You Will Feel

Tonsillectomies are usually done as an outpatient procedure, which means patients can go home the day of the surgery. Don't let that fool you into thinking that back to your normal routine the next day, though.

While pain medication will ease discomfort as much as possible, other symptoms are expected. They may include:

  • Soreness
  • Nausea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fatigue and the need for sleep

At any age, there's an increased risk of bleeding after surgery. This risk lasts for seven to 10 days, so you should continue to take it easy until then. Call your healthcare provider or pediatrician right away if you see bright red blood or have a fever or severe pain.

Your activity, or that of your child, should be limited for two weeks or until your healthcare provider says it's OK to resume your normal levels. Healing of the actual tonsillectomy won't be nearly that fast, though: It will take about a year to completely heal.

Hospitalization

There are some planned and unplanned circumstances that may mean you'll need to spend the night in the hospital. If you or your child have complications during surgery, like oxygen levels that drop too much or bleeding that's hard to control, you'll be admitted to the hospital.

These cases are relatively rare but they do occur. When you are choosing a surgical center, look for one that has admitting privileges at the hospital you prefer. It's a backup plan, just in case.

If you have a weakened immune system or any underlying health issues, such as diabetes, you have a higher risk of complications and you'll likely take longer to recover.

Your healthcare provider will determine if you or your child are at increased risk for complications. They may want to have extra monitoring during the surgery as a precaution.

Some common reasons for why a hospital stay may be planned include:

  • A child that is under the age of 3
  • The presence of obstructive sleep apnea or a condition that affects other organs
  • A medical history that may require additional monitoring after anesthesia

Recap

Most people will return home to recover after having their tonsils out. They may feel sore, or need to sleep more, but these symptoms soon go away. Others may need to stay in the hospital because of complications during surgery or concerns about their risk of complications. These people may have longer recovery times too.

Returning to Work or School

Your child's healthcare provider will likely recommend that they stay home from school for at least one week after discharge.

When deciding if your child can return to school, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can they eat and drink comfortably on their own?
  • Do they still need pain medication?
  • Are they getting enough sleep at night?

Depending on the answers, it may be in your child's best interest to stay home a few extra days.

Adults will probably need to take 10 to 14 days off from work. This will depend on the type of work you do and how well you feel. For example, if you spend a lot of time on the phone, your throat may be too sore and your voice too weak to do your job well.

Air travel in the first two weeks after surgery is not advised. People who have to fly regularly for work-related reasons should plan to avoid travel for at least this long.

Recap

Most adults will need to take up to two weeks off from work. This will depend on your job duties and how ready you are to do them well, or if you can work from home. With kids, ask yourself if they seem like they've returned to normal activity levels. If so, they can probably head back to class.

Summary

It can be easier to plan for a tonsillectomy when you have an idea of what will happen for you or your child. In most cases, young kids will recover in just a few days. Older kids take a bit longer, while teens and adults can expect recovery to take up to two weeks.

These recovery times are affected by other factors that include your overall health. They also may change if bleeding or other complications arise during surgery. Your healthcare provider can help you to know when it's safe to return to work or school after a tonsillectomy.

A Word From Verywell

This article gives you a general idea of what to expect, but don't be discouraged if your recovery time doesn't fit into these averages. Rest assured that you'll heal in due time, even if it takes a bit longer.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What kind of complications are common after a tonsillectomy?

    Bleeding is the most common complication after a tonsillectomy. Nausea, vomiting, and pain also may occur. In some cases, this may lead to dehydration, problems swallowing, and perhaps temporary weight loss.

  • Why is it harder to recover from a tonsillectomy as an adult?

    Adults who’ve had many more infections have thicker scar tissue at and near the tonsils. The healthcare provider will need to deal with this during surgery, which leads to longer recovery times.

  • How soon after a tonsillectomy can my child go back to school?

    It depends on how well your child recovers. If they’re eating a normal diet and return to their daily activities within a week or 10 days after surgery, the healthcare provider may recommend returning to school. Hold off on high-contact sports or strenuous activities, though.

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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