Tonsillectomy: Surgery, Recovery & What to Eat

Updated in May 2022

A tonsillectomy is normally recommended to treat cases of recurrent tonsil infections or when treatment with antibiotics is not effective. It can also be advised when tonsils increase excessively in size and end up obstructing the airway or affecting appetite. 

This surgery involves the removal of the tonsils but it can also involve removal of the adenoids, which also often become infected. The adenoids are pieces of tissue that are found above the tonsils and behind the nose. 

Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils, which are small glands in the throat. Inflammation of these glands can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection in the throat, which leads to swelling of tonsils. 

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Tonsil surgery 

Surgery for recurrent tonsil infections is done under general anesthesia and can take 30 to 60 minutes. Normally, the patient is discharged home once they are fully recovered, but many patients can go home the same day.  

Patients will usually stay admitted if there is post-op bleeding or if they are unable to swallow liquids, in which case, they should remain at the hospital for an additional day. 

Surgery is only advised when conventional treatment for throat infections is not effective and if the tonsil infections are recurrent. The ENT specialist will check to see if there have been three infections in the last year and will assess the intensity of these infections. 

Although it is considered to be a safe procedure, there is a risk for complications. These may include bleeding, pain, vomiting, and other problems related to the anesthesia, like cardiac issues, respiratory issues, allergic reaction or confusion. Some patients may report post-op changes, like a slight modification in voice tone, difficulty swallow, shortness of breath, coughing, nausea and vomiting. 

Tonsillectomy recovery 

The recovery from a tonsillectomy usually takes between 7 to 14 days. Within the first 5 days, it is normal to feel throat pain. The doctor may prescribe analgesics like acetaminophen to treat this symptom.

When recovering, patients should rest and avoid physical activity, however total bed rest is not necessary. Other post-op care instructions include: 

  • Drink plenty of fluids, mainly water
  • Avoid milk and fatty food on the first day 
  • Eat cold foods or ice cream 
  • Avoid hard or scratchy foods for 7 days 

During the post-op phase, it is normal to experience nausea, vomiting and pain. However, if other symptoms emerge, like a high fever that lasts over 3 days or bleeding, you should follow-up with your doctor. 

What to eat after tonsil removal

You should eat foods that are easy to swallow, like: 

  • Soups and broths, that are well-blended and smooth
  • Scrambled eggs or ground meat or fish, which can be added to blended soups or purees 
  • Smoothies and juices made with fruits and vegetables
  • Cooked or pureed fruit 
  • Well-cooked rice and pureed vegetables, like potato, carrot or pumpkin 
  • Mashed legumes, like beans, chickpeas or lentils 
  • Milk, yogurt or creamy cheeses, like cottage or ricotta cheese 
  • Oatmeal or cream of wheat, made with cow milk or vegetable milk 
  • Moistened bread without the crust, moistened with milk, coffee or broth 
  • Fluids: water, tea, coffee, coconut water
  • Others: jello, pudding, jellies, sorbet, butter 

Room-temperature water is most indicated, as you should avoid foods that are too hot or too cold. Cookies, toast, breads and other dry foods should be avoided in the first week. If you wish to eat a drier food, you can consider moistening it in your soup, in broth or in juice before eating it.