Common Changes After Having Your Tonsils Removed

Expect Swelling, Scabs, and Bad Breath

A tonsillectomy is a common surgical procedure to remove your tonsils. Your doctor will likely recommend a tonsillectomy if you have had more than five to seven infections in a year or have sleep apnea related to enlarged tonsils.

After having your tonsils removed, it is normal for your mouth and throat to look different. The changes can be concerning If you aren't aware of them. You can expect to see these four common changes after having your tonsils removed.

changes after tonsillectomy
Verywell / Jessica Olah

Swollen Tongue

A swollen tongue is fairly common in the first few days following a tonsillectomy. How much swelling you may experience varies a lot, but you can expect some swelling.

During a tonsillectomry, various tubes or suction catheters are often inserted into the mouth to suctioning blood and other secretions or to help you breathe while you are under anesthesia. Your tongue will be manipulated or moved during the surgery by various surgical tools.

For example, your tongue is gently retracted to keep it out of the way and allow the surgeon to work. While this is done to protect your tongue, the retractors may cause swelling. As a result, your tongue may also feel a bit sore for a day or two after surgery because of the clamps.

The tongue is also close to the surgical site itself, and so swelling can spread from the tonsil beds to other parts of the mouth and throat after having a tonsillectomy.

You don't need to call a doctor unless tongue swelling becomes severe enough that you have difficulty talking, the swelling interferes with swallowing or breathing, or if the swelling does not improve and eventually go away on its own.

The swelling may also cause your tongue to develop a thin white film. Drinking cold fluids, eating ice chips, or using an ice pack on your throat can all help to reduce tongue swelling.

Swollen Uvula

The uvula is a little bell-shaped organ that hangs from the roof of your mouth. Swelling of your uvula can occur after a tonsillectomy for the same reason the tongue can become swollen.

Eating cold foods and drinking cold liquids also helps to reduce uvula swelling. You should call your doctor or get medical help if you have a swollen uvula that causes drooling, gagging, or difficulty talking or breathing.

White Scabs

After a tonsillectomy, it is normal for the tonsil beds to look like they are covered with a white or yellow film. This is not a concern and usually goes away in five to 10 days.

You should call a doctor, however, if you notice any bright red streaks of blood coming from the tonsil beds, or if the tonsil beds have a green tint, since this could indicate an infection.

Bad Breath

It is common to have bad breath following a tonsillectomy. This symptom will resolve over time as your mouth continues to heal. Causes for bad breath following your tonsillectomy include:

  • Cauterization (burning) of the surgical site
  • Swelling of your tongue, causing some food particles to become trapped
  • Scabs over your surgical site

Risks After Tonsillectomy

There are several risks associated with a tonsillectomy, including nausea, vomiting, throat pain, low-grade fever, earaches, and fatigue. The most significant risk that can be life-threatening is bleeding from your surgical site.

If you experience bleeding in the hospital or at home following a tonsillectomy, you should always seek immediate help.

This may be noticed if you are having to swallow frequently from a trickle of blood in the back of your throat. While tonsillectomies are common procedures, it is not without risk, and you should not delay care if you think you are bleeding.

When to See Your Doctor

You can expect to have a few days of recovery where your mouth doesn't feel or look right after having your tonsils removed. The changes listed above are normal as long as you don't see any fresh blood and swelling inside your mouth isn't making it difficult to breathe. In addition, be sure to keep an eye out for any signs of infection, including a fever over 102 F.

Your doctor will want to see you a couple of weeks after you have your tonsils removed to ensure proper healing. Make sure you keep this appointment, follow any instructions your doctor gives you on post-surgery care, and contact your doctor with any worrisome symptoms.

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