Tonsillectomy Tips

Even though tonsillectomies have been performed for at least 2000 years, the recovery process is still notoriously painful. This leads to a lot of people (myself included!) turning to the internet to look for help in managing the pain. What I learned was that the internet can actually be very helpful, and there appear to be some tips that everyone agrees on:

  • Drink a lot of water on a consistent basis
  • Keep to a schedule for taking your meds (setting alarms or keeping a tracking sheet are both good ideas!)

(following both of the above points will mean waking yourself up fairly often, but it’s worth it)

  • A humidifier will help keep your throat from drying out as you sleep
  • Get lots of rest (even if you can’t sleep, at least try to lay down and relax, and don’t overexert yourself)
  • Eat a bit of solid food, even on your worst days, to avoid nausea from the pain killers

For everything else, from what medications work best, to what foods help/hurt, to whether or not you should be using some type of mouthwash, there’s no clear consensus. I’ve seen people say gargling salt water helped them heal, and other people have said they were actually prescribed a medicinal mouthwash, but my own surgeon told me to avoid any gargling motion at all, and I’ve also seen people who say salt water gargling just seemed to strain their throat. You’ll see this a lot when you’re scrolling through tonsillectomy advice pages, where there are personal (and sometimes even medical) opinions in favour of both sides of a disagreement. It’s up to you to decide if the tip that’s being debated has the ability to cause harm if it doesn’t work out (like going right back to solid food post-surgery) or if the worst it can do is not help (like using heat packs on your neck and jaw). I didn’t think any of the tips I saw online had the potential to dramatically speed up the healing process, so in my opinion, the possible benefit didn’t outweigh the risk of not following my surgeon’s advice. The only time I broke from my “better safe than sorry” mindset was when I started eating crust-less toast, and the only reason I felt comfortable doing that was because I had seen countless doctors from the U.K. and Australia talking about the benefits of avoiding a liquid/soft food diet. But again, I really don’t think there’s too much of a difference between the healing process on a soft food diet versus the healing process on a normal diet. So my advice is to listen to the person with the medical degree who performed your surgery first, and if you do decide you want to try something out that they didn’t specifically recommend, then do so at your own risk and be careful!

With all that being said, here’s a list of things I found helped to relieve pain that I don’t think have the potential to cause harm (beyond the pain of frustration if they don’t work for you!):

  • http://tonsillectomyrecovery.com/ <- this website was very useful, even just in the sense that it let me know I wasn’t alone and that there was a whole community online of people who understood what I was going through
  • Icing either side of my neck and jaw (10 minutes per side) helped with jaw pain by reducing inflammation
  • Taking hot baths helped relax the muscles in my neck and jaw, which also helped relieve some of the ear pain
  • Heat packs wrapped around your neck have the same effect
  • Room temperature water was easier to swallow than cool, cold, or warm water (obviously hot water hurt too)
  • On that note, I found popsicles hurt after the first 3 days because of how cold they are
  • Sleep propped up with pillows or in a reclining chair
  • Even if you feel alright, try and rest as much as you possibly can (especially if sleeping is difficult for you)
  • Keep a pad of paper or your phone on you so that you can write out messages instead of straining your voice to try and speak
  • I found avoiding dairy and sugar was helpful for keeping down phlegm levels (phlegm makes it harder to swallow, and you want to make your throat work as little as possible)
  • Don’t be overly concerned if you’re not having regular bowel movements
  • This is a weird one, but I found that resting my head so that my chin was almost on my chest helped relieve ear pain if I held there for a while (maybe it stretched out muscles?)
  • Try to stay distracted (I didn’t have the ability to focus on anything for a significant period of time, so I just watched random videos on YouTube or read short articles)
  • Keep a mirror and flashlight handy, because the inside of your throat will probably never again look as weird and fascinatingly gross as it does after a tonsillectomy (also handy to check for any bleeding)
  • If your prescription runs out and you’re still in pain, contact your doctor (I originally only had meds for the first 3 days, and even with meds, my most painful days were my 7th and 8th… I don’t even want to imagine how bad they would have been without painkillers)

Above all, remember that the pain is temporary! As ridiculous and all-consuming as it seems, it will go away and you’ll be able to eat all the food you’ve been dreaming about soon. Hopefully my tips will help some of you out, feel free to comment any advice/questions you might have!

Kate

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