How Long Does It Take to Recover from a Tonsillectomy?

If you're planning a tonsillectomy for yourself or your child, you probably want to know how long you should plan to take off from work or school. Since everyone is different, there's no exact answer to the question—your body will heal on its own time. That said, kids tend to recover in a few days, while it can take adults as long as a couple of weeks to feel better. This, however, can be affected by factors such as how the procedure is performed. Despite these variables, this guidance can help with pre-surgery planning.

tonsillectomy recovery
Illustration by Cindy Chung, Verywell

Recovery Timeline

The amount of time it takes to recover from a tonsillectomy will depend on many factors, including the surgical method used, your (or your child's) age and overall health, and how closely the doctor's post-operative instructions are followed.

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 intervals, but small children tend to bounce back sooner than everyone else—they usually feel better after a few days, whereas older kids (ages 5 to 12) can take a few more days, and teens and adults longer still (about two weeks). One reason adults have a tougher recuperation is that the older you are, the harder it can be for the surgeon to remove your tonsils. Scar tissue builds up on them over time, and the more you have, the more difficult it is to remove.

At any age, keep in mind that there's an increased risk of bleeding seven to 10 days after surgery, so you should continue to take it easy until then. Activity should be limited for two weeks or until your doctor says it's OK. The actual tonsillectomy will take about a year to completely heal.

Hospitalization and Complications

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 the next day will have you back to the normal routine, though. While pain medication will be given to ease discomfort as much as possible, soreness and, possibly, nausea and lack of appetite are to be expected. You or your child will also probably feel tired and want to sleep.

That said, there are some planned and unplanned circumstances that may require spending the night in the hospital. If you or your child have any complications during surgery, like failure to maintain oxygen levels or bleeding that's difficult to control, you'll be admitted to the hospital. While these instances are relatively rare, they do occur. When choosing a surgical center, look for one that has hospital-admitting privileges—just in case.

Your doctor will know if you or your child are at increased risk for having complications or require extra monitoring during surgery. Common reasons 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
Is A Tonsillectomy Safe?

Returning to Work or School

Your child's doctor will likely recommend that he or she stay home from school for at least one week after being discharged.

When deciding if your child can return to school, ask yourself these questions: Can he or she can eat and drink comfortably on his or her own? Does he or she still need pain medication? Is he or she is 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 at least 10 days and often two weeks off from work, depending on the type of work they do and how they 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 effectively. Air travel in the first two weeks post-op isn't advised, so people who fly regularly for work should plan to be grounded.

A Word From Verywell

You shouldn't be discouraged if your recovery time doesn't fit into these approximations; everyone heals at their own rate. If you have any underlying health issues, such as diabetes, or you have a weakened immune system, you'll likely take longer to recover. During recuperation, call your doctor (or your child's pediatrician) about any bright red bleeding, fever, or uncontrollable pain. These symptoms can indicate a problem that requires emergency medical attention.

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