What to expect from an adult tonsillectomy

Having a tonsillectomy as an adult is quite an ordeal, as clothing designer Dietza Ioannides discovered.

14 April 2015
by Candice Verwey

Dietza had her tonsils removed about five years ago. “My one tonsil started getting infected about every eight months, and I would go to the doctor for a new round of antibiotics every time. This went on for about six years. I was told that my tonsils could not be removed as both needed to be infected for a tonsillectomy, and only one was infected at the time."

“Then five years ago, in winter, it started getting infected and swollen more frequently, about every two months, and my GP referred me to an ENT specialist. The ENT took one look and said both tonsils were rotten and should have been removed 10 years ago. He booked me in for a tonsillectomy three days later."

“I was literally on my back for two weeks after the procedure and couldn’t move. The painkillers were super strong so I slept a lot of the time. For the first three days I threw up a lot as I couldn’t eat much and I battled to swallow the painkillers. I was advised to eat soft food like soup and yoghurt, but even those felt like swallowing razor blades. You obviously can’t brush your teeth and gargling twice a day was required. I had a spittoon next to my bed at all times because swallowing my own spit was so painful. In two weeks I think I lost about five kilograms!”

Dr Chris Hofmeyr, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon at Milnerton medi-clinic in Cape Town, says that tonsillectomies in adults are unfortunately more painful in adults than in children. He provides the following tips for recovery after surgery:

1. Take the prescribed painkillers regularly, especially prior to meals. “Most patients find the suppositories work best, especially at night. I also prescribe an antacid solution that patients gargle to coat the raw tonsil beds prior to swallowing.”
2. Try to return to a normal diet as soon as possible, but avoid acidic foods at first as these are likely to increase pain at the surgical site. “Obviously softer foods are better tolerated initially, but don’t stick to a totally liquid diet – the sooner a normal diet can be reached, the quicker the healing process can occur. Chewing gum and biltong are helpful to exercise the muscles of mastication.”
3. Downtime is required for recovery. “I advise two weeks away from work, but a lot of patients are able to return after 10 days.”
4. Report any complications to your doctor. “Thankfully complications are uncommon (less than five percent), but infection and bleeding can occur. An increase in pain around days five to seven postoperatively does not necessarily imply there is a problem – this is quite common and part of the healing process. However any heavy bleeding needs to be reported immediately, and pain that continues to get worse and not better could imply infection and should be reviewed by the surgeon.”