Recovering After Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy Surgery

What About Ice Cream? What to Eat and Drink After a Tonsillectomy

Woman eating sorbet
Sorbet Is Soothing After a Tonsillectomy. Rachel Weill/Stockbyte/Getty Images

After a tonsillectomy (surgery to remove the tonsils), it is normal to have a sore throat and difficulty swallowing. In fact, despite the famous promise “you get to eat all the ice cream you want after surgery,” patients don’t usually feel like swallowing anything for the first day or two after surgery -- and ice cream (sadly) isn’t recommended.

Patients, children in particular, may feel like resting in bed for a day or two after the surgery.

Surgery can make patients feel exhausted after a minimal amount of activity, so it is important to rest as needed. Pushing too hard with too much activity can slow healing and increase pain. Most patients are able to return to work or school within a week of surgery.

In recent years the tonsillectomy has become more common in adult patients.  This is typically done as a treatment for sleep apnea rather than an infection of the tonsils.  For adults with sleep apnea surgery to remove the tonsils can create a larger airway, allowing for better airflow while sleeping. 

When to Call the Surgeon After Tonsillectomy Surgery

Call your surgeon if you experience any of the following:

  • bleeding from the surgical site
  • inability to eat or drink
  • difficulty breathing
  • fever over 101 degrees
  • inability to urinate
  • vomiting
  • swelling that is getting worse instead of improving day by day
  • signs of infection appear

Pain After Tonsillectomy Surgery

Expect to have a very sore throat.

The pain is typically at its worst the day or two after surgery. After that, the pain will gradually decrease. Medication will be prescribed or recommended to help with the pain during recovery. Small children may not verbalize that they are in pain but instead may be restless, fussy, tearful or cranky.

The patient may also have a sore nose, or on rare occasions a bloody nose, after the surgery. This is because the surgery requires the patient be nasally intubated during the surgery. The insertion and removal of the breathing tube can irritate the inside of the nose, leading to temporary soreness after the procedure.

What to Eat After Tonsillectomy Surgery

Fluids are very important the first 48 hours after surgery. Fluids should be encouraged, as surgery and the healing process can contribute to dehydration, even though the patient does experience pain when swallowing.

Drink enough to keep your mouth and throat moist.  A dry mouth can dramatically increase your pain. 

Drinking cold fluids can be soothing to a sore throat, similar to applying an ice pack to an injury.  For this reason many people will sip ice cold water during their recovery.  Others may find warm fluids to be soothing, such as mild tea, but hot fluids can be irritating. 

What Not to Eat After Tonsillectomy Surgery

Skip the ice cream for the first day, along with other dairy foods for the first 24 hours after surgery. Dairy products can make a film in the mouth and throat, so avoiding dairy is important the first few days after surgery.

Popsicles are an excellent alternative, as they are cold and soothing and help with the patient’s fluid requirements.

Avoid using straws while recovering from this surgery. It is very easy to poke or injure the surgical sites with a straw. For small children, a sippy cup is fine, as there is no risk of injury to the throat.

What to Eat After Tonsillectomy Surgery

Opt for these foods, which you may want to purchase before the surgery so you're stocked up and ready:

  • Cold Foods - The cold of the food may help with the pain and swelling. Popsicles, frozen fruit pops and sorbet are ideal. Avoid dairy items, such as ice cream.
  • Soft Foods - Mashed potatoes, pasta, cottage cheese (after the first 24 hours), and soup.
  • Juice, Water, Athletic Drinks, Punch- Remember, if it is very cold, it may help with the pain and swelling.

What Not to Eat After Tonsillectomy Surgery

Avoid these foods, however tempting they may be:

  • Spicy or Acidic Foods - Things like lemons, oranges and grapefruits are acidic and can cause pain at the surgical site; spicy foods can also cause irritation.
  • Hot Foods - The temperature of foods served when hot can cause pain for some patients. Allow the food to cool before serving when possible, or select an alternative.
  • Hard Foods - Skip foods such as potato chips, tortilla chips and other crunchy items during recovery. They can be very painful to swallow.

Adults and Tonsillectomy

The tonsillectomy procedure is becoming more common in adult patients than in the past.  This is often to treat sleep apnea, or in some cases, a way to treat chronic strep throat infections. 

Adults, sadly, often have a more challenging recover from the procedure than children do.  It may take several days before eating isn't extremely painful, in fact, even drinking can be excruciating in the day after surgery.  For these people, very cold fluids are ideal, as they get the effect of a cold compress on their angry throat as well as the hydration that they need after surgery.

Pain medication is typically prescribed during the early days of recovery as well, and can help significantly.


Fact Sheet: Tonsillectomy. American Academy of Otolaryngology.

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