Recovery from surgery can be a painful process for anyone, but a toddler has a limited capacity to equate pain with getting better, coupled with an inability to properly express his frustration and pain except through crying. While a tonsillectomy can be a relatively quick surgery, the recovery time can last several days or longer, and although your toddler will not feel like doing so, it’s important to get him to eat so he can recover more quickly.
Tonsillitis and Tonsillectomy
The tonsils are small, round tissues located at the back of both sides of the throat. While their function is to fight germs, they can become infected from the continued onslaught of bacteria and germs, causing sore throats, fatigue and fever. When a patient has chronic tonsillitis, a routine tonsillectomy is performed under general anesthesia to remove the tonsils. While the surgery takes about 20 to 30 minutes, the fear surrounding the surgery and the recovery afterward can be traumatic, particularly for young children. Try to minimize your child's fear and ask whether your hospital has a child-friendly tour it can conduct that familiarizes children with the hospital rooms and surroundings. Don't forget to take your child's comfort toy or blanket so she can self soothe after the surgery.
Chewing is essential to reducing both throat and ear pain after a tonsillectomy, and it minimizes scarring at the incision site. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, the sooner a child can eat and chew after recovery, the sooner he will recover. A throat-numbing spray will minimize some of the pain before chewing and swallowing, and for a special treat, make throat-numbing ice pops. If you don’t have a special ice-pop tray, pour your toddler’s favorite electrolyte drink or apple juice in paper cups and add about 1/2 tsp. of numbing spray to each pop. Place in the freezer, and then insert wooden sticks in the mixture once it becomes firm, but before it freezes. Once the treat is frozen, remove the paper and allow your toddler to suck on the flavored ice, which will numb his throat and buy you a little bit of eating time.
Coax your toddler to drink liquids frequently, which is key to keeping her hydrated and on the road to recovery. And because life with a toddler is already a daily battle of wills, you might need to get creative or give her some extra TLC. Cuddle her in your lap and read a couple of her favorite books as you urge her to take sips of water, apple juice or another favorite drink that isn’t acidic. The colder the beverage is, the better it will feel on her sore throat. Frozen pops and lukewarm broth or pureed soup also aid in the hydration department, but warm or hot drinks will irritate her throat.
Encourage your child to eat soft foods, including pudding, soups with soft meat or vegetables, mashed potatoes, hot cereal that has been cooled to room temperature, smashed or pureed vegetables or non-acidic fruit, bread or a nutrient-rich smoothie. Watch a favorite movie or television program together so he's a bit distracted from the pain as he eats, and offer foods on a fun, new plate or in a new cup that features one of his favorite book or movie characters. Try to avoid hard or crunchy foods, such as toast or crackers, for the first few days so that they don’t irritate the throat.
Post-operative recovery is a time for indulgence, particularly for a child. Combine lots of hugs and love with treats that will make her more willing to drink and eat. Sherbet and ice cream will be a food trifecta: They hydrate and provide sustenance, while the cold minimizes her throat pain. When nothing you try seems to encourage her to eat, cuddle her on your lap and sing to her or tell her stories as you spoon feed her until she realizes it’s not going to hurt every time she eats.