Knowing what to expect before your child has a tonsillectomy (also known as having your tonsils out) can help you and your child prepare for surgery. We’ve put together our top tips to help you keep your child comfortable before, during and after hospital.
Tonsillectomy: the basics
A tonsillectomy is an operation to remove the two tonsils at the back of the throat.
During a tonsillectomy your child will be given general anaesthesia, so they’ll be asleep when their tonsils are removed. Don’t be shy about asking your doctor and anaesthetist questions before the procedure, and provide them as much information as you can about your child’s medical history.
Prepare well for a smooth recovery
Preparing well can help make your child’s surgery less stressful for both of you. It can also help avoid complications in hospital and during recovery.
Recovering from a tonsillectomy
Your child’s throat will likely be very sore, and the pain may get worse 4 to 6 days after the operation, before it starts to get better again. Your child might also experience pain in their ears since the throat and ears share the same nerves.
You might also notice that a white or yellow membrane forms where their tonsils were. This tissue is part of the healing process. You can expect the pain, and the membrane, to go away within a couple weeks. Bad breath is another common side effect—it should go away within a couple weeks.
Most children will need plenty of rest, but they’ll be back at school or day care in a week or two.
Managing pain and discomfort
- Follow your doctor’s instructions for pain relief and clarify anything you’re not sure about. Don’t give your child aspirin, as it increases the risk of bleeding.
- Don’t wait for your child to complain about pain to give them medicine. Pain relief medicine works best when taken regularly.
- Plan meals, snacks and drinks for about 30 minutes after taking pain medicines, when they are at their most effective.
- Keep them engaged in other activities to help distract from pain. This could include reading a story together, video games, toys or other entertainment such as a favourite movie or TV show. It can also help to comfort them by gently rubbing their back or stroking them.
- Cold drinks, ice cream, ice blocks and other cold foods such as jelly, yogurt or smoothies can help ease discomfort.
- Certain foods and drinks can irritate their throat for the first week or two—don’t give them acidic foods or drinks such as pineapple, lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, tomato or spicy foods.
- Let food cool down so it’s not too hot, and make sure drinks aren’t too hot.
Try to get them back to a healthy diet
As much as your child may be enjoying an ‘ice-cream and jelly’ diet, they can eat most foods shortly after surgery, including hard foods.
Try to get them back to a regular diet as soon as you can, even if their throat is sore. Even though this might be challenging, it can help them heal more quickly.
However, it’s best to avoid spicy, sour or acidic food and drinks, for the first 10 days or so as they recover.
Make sure they get enough to drink
Check that your child is drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Chilled drinks can also help soothe their throat at the same time.
Reduce the risk of infection
Take steps to prevent an infection, especially during the first week after they get their tonsils out. Keep your child away from anyone with a cold or flu and try to stay away from crowded and confined spaces. A healthy diet can also help.
Warning signs to look out for
Take your child to the emergency department immediately if you notice bright red blood coming from your child’s throat or nose. A small amount of dried brown blood is normal, but seek medical advice if you see a lot, or if the blood is fresh and bright red.
A temperature over 38°C can be a sign of infection. See your GP as soon as possible if this occurs within a couple weeks of the surgery.
Signs of dehydration
See the doctor if you notice that your child is weeing less than two or three times each day, not producing tears when they cry, or if they’re not drinking.
Contact your doctor if your child vomits 3-4 times, or has more than a teaspoon of bright red blood in their vomit.