I had a tonsillectomy when I was 24. Although that was many years ago, I can still remember the horrible pain to this day. Back then, a tonsillectomy for an adult was an overnight procedure, so at least I had that first afternoon and night after the surgery to receive pain shots in the hospital! Once going home, I took Tylenol & codeine elixir every 3-4 hours without fail for several days, then I was gradually able to lengthen the time between doses. I had nothing but water, ginger ale, Popsicles, and frozen flavored ice for the first 4 or 5 days; ice cream should be avoided because dairy products tend to increase and thicken secretions, which will build up at the back of the throat. The last thing you want to do after having this surgery is to feel that you have to cough or to clear your throat. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids, as this prevents dehydration, constipation, and aids in healing. After about 5 days I was able to eat soft foods like lukewarm soups, mashed potatoes, eggs, jello, noodles, and rice. By 10 days I was eating a normal diet, which is pretty much what all adults can expect after the surgery.
I also remember having swelling of my tongue and uvula (the cylindrical piece of tissue that hangs down in the middle at the back of the throat), which contributed to the discomfort and made it difficult for me to speak clearly. Due to the dried blood at the surgical sites as they heal, there was also a very foul smell and taste in my mouth for about a week. It is OK to rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash, but never gargle, as this may dislodge the scabs and result in excessive bleeding.
Tonsillectomy tends to be a very painful operation in adults; children will usually "bounce back" in 4 or 5 days (sometimes sooner), whereas adults generally take an average of 10 to 20 days to recover. Some adults continue to have significant throat pain for a month or more. It is not clear why adults tend to have significantly more pain for a longer period following the procedure as children do; it has been thought to be due to a change in innervation of the throat as we age, meaning that the nerve fibers in the adult throat are more sensitive to pain and injury than they are in children.
Late bleeding (7-10 days after surgery) occurs as the "scabs" where the tonsils were removed heal and begin to slough off. A tiny amount of blood is to be expected, however approximately 5% of patients will experience a significant degree of bleeding at this time which is considered to be a medical emergency and necessitates a trip to the emergency room. Bleeding other than a small amount is not something that should be ignored.
Another factor that needs to be mentioned with adults, which isn't pertinent with young children, is that they need to avoid all smoking and tobacco products and all illicit drugs as these may further damage the throat tissues leading to bleeding and infection and may interfere with prescribed medications. Alcohol should also be avoided as it will irritate the throat, can lead to dehydration, and may interfere with medications.
Adults should contact their healthcare provider immediately if they experience excessive bleeding, pain which worsens or is not controlled with the medication prescribed, temperature over 101, or if they are unable to swallow liquids. Rest, plan on staying home from work or school for at least a week, and allow your body to heal.