Tonsillectomy complications in adults

Updated March 23, 2017

A tonsillectomy is often performed to prevent frequent infections of the tonsils or to remove enlarged tonsils that are causing problems with breathing and swallowing. A tonsillectomy is usually a simple surgical procedure, but like all surgeries it does carry risks. The risks tend to be higher for adults than children.

Anaesthesia Reactions

A tonsillectomy is performed under anaesthesia. Anaesthesia may lead to serious reactions. Reactions to anaesthesia can range from mild symptoms such as temporary confusion and lung infection to serious reactions such as heart attack and stroke. Severe reactions to anaesthesia, however, are rare.

Surgical Bleeding

Severe bleeding is uncommon during a tonsillectomy; however, it may occur. Severe bleeding may cause the patient to need a blood transfusion and will require a longer than normal hospital stay.

Recovery Bleeding

In some cases severe bleeding may occur within one to two weeks after the surgery was performed. When this occurs, patients should immediately go to the nearest emergency room. If surgery is needed for this complication, it may be especially dangerous if the patient has eaten recently since then there is a risk of aspirating food into the lungs during surgery.


In some cases infections may occur at the surgical site. These infections may require further treatment with intravenous or oral antibiotics. Serious infections may result in an extended hospital stay.


Adults often experience worse pain than children do after having an tonsillectomy. Recovery time is typically two weeks, but some adults may take a month or more to recover fully from the procedure.

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About the Author

Based in Laurel, Miss., Melody Morgan Hughes covers topics related to education, money and health. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English education from the University of Southern Mississippi, a Master of Education from William Carey University and a Master of Education from Nova Southeastern University.