Why Does My Throat Hurt After Surgery?

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A sore throat is a common issue after surgery, particularly if general anesthesia was used.

General anesthesia is the use of medications to put you into a sleep-like state during surgery so that you are unconscious and do not feel pain or move. It also requires the use of a breathing tube that can irritate the throat.

After surgery with general anesthesia, many patients report throat discomfort ranging from mild to severe in the hours and days following their surgery. 

It is typically nothing to worry about unless it impacts the ability to speak or if the soreness lasts for more than a week.

This article will explore the two main causes of a sore throat after surgery, how to soothe it, and when you should seek medical care for it.

how to ease a sore throat after surgery

Verywell / Jessica Olah

Causes

Your throat probably hurts after surgery for one of two reasons: dehydration or irritation from methods to maintain your breathing. Sometimes it may be due to both.

Dehydration

After surgery you may be dehydrated, which means your body does not have enough fluids to function at its best. This can cause dryness in your throat.

Dehydration can happen since you aren't allowed to eat or drink before surgery and you may be allowed only minimal food and fluids after surgery. 

Drinking water and other fluids will relieve this problem.

Breathing Tubes

The anesthesia drugs used during general anesthesia paralyze your muscles, including the diaphragm, which keeps you breathing. This requires methods to maintain breathing during surgery.

It's common for an endotracheal tube to be put into your mouth and down your throat, a process called intubation.

This tube, which is inserted into your trachea, or windpipe, is then attached to a ventilator to provide oxygen during surgery and potentially during the early stages of recovery.

Sometimes face masks or laryngeal mask airways (LMA) are used. LMAs are devices with a tube that sits in the back of the throat above the opening to the trachea. These breathing tubes can also lead to throat dryness or irritation.

The procedure to insert the tube can be irritating to the throat, tongue, and vocal cords.

In addition, having the tube remain in place can cause further irritation in the mouth and throat.

After the tube is removed, it's common for your mouth, throat, and airway to be sore, and you may experience burning and other symptoms.

If your condition requires a prolonged stay on the ventilator, the resulting sore throat may be more significant.

In fact, most facilities will encourage a patient to have a tracheostomy, which involves an incision into your neck to access your windpipe, if the breathing tube and ventilator will be necessary for more than 10-14 days.

This is because leaving the breathing tube in place for too long can cause permanent damage to the vocal cords.

If you have other types of anesthesia that do not require breathing assistance, such as a regional block of sensation in a specific area of your body, you shouldn't experience throat discomfort.

Recap

A sore throat is common after surgery with general anesthesia and can be caused by dehydration and/or irritation from breathing tubes.

How to Soothe a Sore Throat After Surgery

If you get throat soreness after surgery, there are a variety of options that can help ease the pain.

Some over-the-counter (OTC) remedies can be helpful. Numbing lozenges with benzocaine are particularly effective for this type of irritation. The medication coats and protects the throat while numbing the area.

Sucking on hard candy can also help keep the area more lubricated to decrease pain.

It's also important to drink lots of fluids. This can help keep your throat moist and pain-free, and, if tolerated, ice water can act like a cold pack for the inside of the throat. 

Some people prefer popsicles and other cold/icy treats, but avoid citrus, such as orange or lemon, as they can be irritating to already tender tissues.

Recap

Stay hydrated and try OTC numbing lozenges or hard candy to help soothe a sore throat.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Don't ignore a throat problem that isn't improving in the days following surgery. Within three to four days after surgery, most people report that their sore throat is no longer an issue and they are back to eating and drinking without difficulty.

If your sore throat persists more than a week or your voice is affected, contact your surgeon or another healthcare provider. 

Permanent throat or vocal cord injury is rare, but it is one of the risks of anesthesia, and early treatment can make a dramatic difference in the final outcome. 

Keep in mind that it is absolutely possible that the sore throat is unrelated to the surgery. If your sore throat is prolonged, you may be referred to an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist called an otolaryngologist.

For example, a person might have surgery but could also have an exposure that leads to an infection such as strep throat, a contagious bacterial infection that causes a sore throat.

If there is increasing discomfort and a fever with strep throat, it may require antibiotics as treatment. Antibiotics kill or stop the growth of bacteria.

Recap

Contact your healthcare provider if your sore throat isn't improving a few days after surgery or if it lasts longer than a week, affects your ability to speak, or you have additional symptoms such as a fever.

Summary

Post-surgical throat pain is common and can be due to dehydration or irritation from any tubes put in your throat to keep you breathing during surgery.

The irritation usually improves in a few days and should be gone in about a week. You can manage it by drinking plenty of fluids, especially cold ones, and sucking on medicated lozenges or hard candy.

A Word From Verywell

A sore throat after surgery is typically not a big deal and usually improves quickly in the days immediately following general anesthesia.

If your sore throat is persisting, it should be addressed with your surgeon, and, if necessary, a specialist who can evaluate if you need additional care.

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6 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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