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Tonsil and Adenoid Surgery: Discharge Instructions

What is tonsil and adenoid surgery?

Tonsil and adenoid surgery is a procedure to remove the tonsils and adenoids. The tonsils and adenoids help the body fight infections, like colds. However, the body can still fight infection if they are removed.

  • Your child has 2 tonsils, one on each side of the back of the throat. They look like reddish, oval-shaped masses and are easy to see.
  • The adenoids are high in the throat behind the nose and the roof of the mouth and cannot be seen without special equipment.

Your child may have both the tonsils and adenoids removed at the same time. Some children only have the tonsils or the adenoids removed.

How long will it take to recover?

For a week or so after surgery your child will have a sore throat and be uncomfortable for about 7 to 10 days. Your child may also:

  • Lack energy and tire easily for several days
  • Be restless at night and not sleep well
  • Have problems with constipation for several days because of the effects of the pain medicine or because he will not feel like drinking very much liquid.

How can I take care of my child?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your child’s healthcare provider. Common recommendations include:

  • If an antibiotic has been prescribed, make sure that your child takes all of it according to instructions.
  • Let your child rest at home for the first 48 hours after surgery. Activity may be slowly increased as your child's strength increases. There is no rule for the right time to go back to school, but a guideline is 7 to 10 days after the tonsils are taken out. Rough play and contact sports should not be allowed until 14 days after tonsil or adenoid surgery. Contact your child's school for make-up work.

    Make an effort to give your child a drink (2 or 3 ounces) every hour during waking hours for the first 2 days after surgery. This helps the kidneys get rid of waste products and will help lessen problems with constipation, and healing. Soft drinks, fruit juice nectars, Jell-O, custard, Popsicles, or Gatorade are good choices. Your child should not drink through a straw after surgery until his throat is completely healed. Using a straw may increase the risk of bleeding.

  • Give frequent small feedings of soft foods and cool liquids. They usually are most comfortable for your child. As your child's appetite gets better, encourage him to eat solid foods. Ask your child’s provider about what kinds of foods are best. Let your child have his favorite foods.
  • A very sore throat or ear pain is normal after the tonsils are removed. Expect pain in the ears between the 3rd and 7th days because the same nerve that goes to the tonsils also goes to the ears. Give regular does of acetaminophen, based on your child’s weight, 4 to 5 times a day for a week as long as your child has pain. Read the label and give as directed. If your child has severe pain, use the pain medicine prescribed by your child’s healthcare provider as instructed. Do not give aspirin or ibuprofen because these medicines increase the chance of bleeding. Also, check with your healthcare provider before you give any medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates to a child or teen. This includes medicines like baby aspirin, some cold medicines, and Pepto-Bismol. Children and teens who take aspirin are at risk for a serious illness called Reye’s syndrome.
  • You can put cool compresses or ice packs on your child's neck to help your child feel more comfortable. You can also have your child suck on ice chips or chew gum.
  • It’s normal for children to have a fever between 99°F (37.2°C) and 101°F (38.3°C) for the first few days after surgery. The fever will be worse if your child doesn't drink enough liquids and gets dehydrated. Give acetaminophen for fever.
  • Bad breath is normal for a week or two after surgery. It comes from a white to yellowish scab that forms over the area where the tonsils were removed. You can help your child's breath by giving him a mild salt and water mix to gargle.
  • Your child should not have bleeding from the nose or mouth after he goes home. Check on your child once or twice during the first night after surgery. If there is any bleeding bigger than the size of a dime, call your child’s healthcare provider right away. Take your child to the emergency room right away if your child has bleeding that doesn’t stop.

    Between the 5th and 10th days after surgery, the scab will break away from the surgery site and your child may spit up some bloody mucus. If the bleeding does not stop in 20 to 30 minutes, bring your child to the emergency room.

Ask your child’s provider:

  • How and when you will hear your child’s test results
  • How long it will take your child to recover
  • If there activities your child should avoid and when your child can return to normal activities
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call your child’s provider right away if:

  • There is any bleeding from the mouth or nose.
  • The fever goes over 102°F (38.8°C).
  • There are any signs of dehydration.
  • Your child has vomiting that lasts more than 12 hours.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-01-29
Last reviewed: 2015-01-29
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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