Having your tonsils removed can be a pain in the neck (or throat!). But as vocalists, it can be daunting having any kind of surgery that could affect your precious instrument. We’ve seen some of our favorite singers bounce back after a tonsillectomy, with seemingly no bad side-effects. This got me thinking how long you actually have to wait before you can sing again.
Returning to singing after a tonsillectomy varies depending on the individual, how much scar tissue forms and the extent of the surgery. On average, recovery from the procedure will take 2 weeks. However, your voice can be used after 2-3 days’ rest, but may take up to 6 weeks to return to normal.
Not only does the time taken to recover vary, but also the recovery itself. One would hope that your voice still sounded the same after the surgery or that you could somehow speed up the recovery. It definitely seemed like something I should look into – so I did.
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The Recovery Period After a Tonsillectomy
A tonsillectomy is such a quick and relatively easy procedure. If it’s a straight-forward case and all goes well, it should take around 30 minutes to complete. On top of this, you usually get out of hospital on the same day. But, even if the procedure is a breeze, the recovery afterwards is far from it. After any ‘-ectomy’ (removal of tissue), you body is going to respond with swelling and bleeding, pus and scabs. All normal, but definitely disgusting.
Now, there’s nothing stopping you from TRYING to talk and sing straight after the surgery, but because talking and singing uses all those muscles near the tonsils (tongue, soft palate, pharyngeal muscles), you’re going to be shaking things up right near your wound, and potentially pulling on some scar tissue. This unfortunately means pain.
For a more detailed explanation of how sound is produced when you sing, take a look at this article.
Usually after 2-3 days of rest you feel like you can talk more, but singing might be a stretch. During this period your throat will be very sore from the swelling and you’re likely to be spitting up blood. Not exactly an ideal situation for belting out your favorite song. So give yourself that time to recover.
After that, it’s very much guided by how sore your throat feels. For some tips to soothing your sore throat, click here. In the next 1-2 weeks your sore throat will be clearing up, so you can start some gentle singing again. It took Demi Lovato almost a month after her tonsillectomy before she was back on stage, so unless you have more will-power than her, you definitely won’t be performing during this time.
If all goes well, it takes up to six weeks for you to feel like you have the same strength in your voice again. So from weeks 2-6, whenever you feel ready, you can be back on stage or back to you normal vocal lessons, whatever your normal routine is. But ultimately be guided by how you feel and what your doctor recommends.
Making a Quicker Recovery for Your Voice
Now that you’ve read about how long it will take you to get back into singing, you’re probably wondering if you can make that time any quicker. It’s a natural thought to have when you’re so used to singing on a regular basis and are told you have to refrain from doing what you love.
Some recommendations to make the recovery quicker are those that target your sore throat and prevent scar tissue forming around those important muscles near the pharynx (back of the throat). I will explain some of these below. However, I would always discuss these methods with your doctor/surgeon so that they can stay in the loop with your recovery.
Use a Humidifier or Steamer
As I mentioned before, your sore throat is mainly due to swelling as the body tries to heal itself from the surgery. However, if you are experiencing a dry throat and feel like this is contributing, a humidifier (Amazon) in the bedroom might be all it takes to speed things up in the sore throat department. It will simply increase the moisture in the air so that your throat is less likely to dry out.
For instant relief from a dry throat, you could try a vocal steamer like this one on Amazon. This allows you to breath in warm moist air through a face mask. Steamers are also easy to carry in your bag so you can use it to hydrate your throat before singing. You can find more information on vocal steamers in this article.
Tailoring Your Surgery
Another possibility requires a bit of pre-planning. So if you’re reading this post after you’ve had your surgery, then this part is irrelevant to you. But it might be worth mentioning to your GP that you are a singer and want to ensure minimal damage to the pharynx and vocal cords.
There are new techniques emerging where less heat (during cauterization) is used to remove the tonsils, potentially reducing you scar tissue. The anesthetist will also be putting a tube down your throat to help you breath during surgery, so it’s worth mentioning how much you value those vocal cords.
One thing many famous singers do is find a voice therapist. A voice therapist will be able to guide you in certain exercises to do early on in the recovery (within 1-2 weeks of the surgery). These exercises will gently stretch the muscles in your throat, helping to reduce scar-tissue formation. Here are some tips to avoid straining your voice when you can't warm up your voice properly.
How a Tonsillectomy Affects Singing
After your six weeks of recovery, you may have the strength to sing again, but is your voice the same?
Some people will not notice any difference in the sound of their voice, and I’m sure you haven’t noticed enough of a difference in a singer’s voice to stop and wonder if they’ve just had their tonsils removed.
Others, however, may notice that the tone of their voice (the sound of it) has changed or that singing just doesn’t feel the same. This is likely because removing the tonsils makes more room in the space at the back of the throat (the larynx).
Having more space in the back of your throat is like being in a large hall. If that hall is filled with people, you voice will sound a lot different compared to when it is completely empty. Even carpet instead of floorboards will make a difference to the sound your voice makes.
The same applies for your larynx. Take away the tonsils and the resonance is different when you sing, because the surface that the air bounces off has changed.
You may also notice cracking when you used to sing seamlessly. There could be a number of reasons for this, including scar tissue or swelling. You can find some tips to preventing cracking in this article.
Some claim their voices improved after having their tonsils removed, but that they had to retrain their muscles to adjust to the more open space at the back of the throat. Some think it made no difference.
This is where, again, it comes down to the individual. One thing is certain, you will probably feel a lot better without those pesky throat infections all the time! That in itself can only help.
Whether it makes your voice better or not, you should only have a tonsillectomy if recommended by a doctor for medical reasons.
Is a Wisdom Tooth Extraction a Quicker Recovery for the Voice?
Having your wisdom teeth removed is another very common procedure that most people don’t think about. But as singers, it may be playing on your mind.
Again, each situation is different as some wisdom teeth can be easily removed at the dentist while you’re awake, and others require specialist consultation and careful planning, such as when the root wraps around the nerve. Either way, you will still experience swelling, blood and pus, similar to a tonsillectomy.
As the wisdom teeth sit in the oral cavity (the mouth) rather than the pharyngeal cavity (the throat), it will have less of an effect on when you can get back into singing. But they are still close to the soft palate, so the swelling will affect some of the muscles involved in singing.
The recovery time for a simple wisdom tooth extraction is 3-4 days, so you should feel like you are able to sing after that time. This would be those cases where you have the option to stay awake for the removal. Those that are a bit more complicated, meaning the surgeon will need to cut into your gums, will require more time, usually around one week.
If you’re reading this because you’ve just had either a tonsillectomy or wisdom teeth extraction – my sympathies go out to you as you gingerly sip your soup. Just know, it won’t be too long before you can get back into your singing. And for everyone else, enjoy singing while you can, and take care of that precious instrument.