Our Experience With Tonsil and Adenoid Removal

Of Minnesota’s 10,000+ lakes, there is one that my family lovingly refers to as the lake. It should take about six-and-a-half hours to get there, but we never make it that quickly. The drive expands to carry its own set of vacation traditions: morning donuts, afternoon shopping, and, if we are lucky, a post-lunch nap for the kids.

I plan ahead for that nap, a quiet gift to my husband and I as we hurtle into a week of family together-ness. Long before we pull out of the driveway, I plot out lunch spots and playgrounds, crafting perfect nap conditions: full bellies, stretched legs and the hum of a moving car.

Two years ago, this strategy paid off. My husband and I relaxed into the drive, scanned for radio stations and enjoyed an uninterrupted conversation, occasionally giggling at my three year old’s snores. Then, we stopped giggling.

Those snores didn’t sound normal. Something was wrong.

My son had his head back, mouth wide open, making noises reminiscent of many a post-Thanksgiving grandfather on a La-Z-Boy. He snored steadily, pausing every so often to gasp and draw in a lungful of breath. I recognized this pattern, having been diagnosed with sleep apnea in my late 20s.

His snoring continued during vacation. By the time we drove back to Iowa, I had spoken to and had an appointment scheduled with his pediatrician. From there, she referred him to a pediatric otolaryngologist.

I was surprised neither doctor jumped at the chance to watch my video of his snores and gasps, although both patiently did when I pulled it up anyway. Based on my description alone, the otolaryngologist was fairly confident our three year old had sleep apnea. He recommended a sleep observation and likely surgery to remove his tonsils and adenoids.

We were given the choice between a sleep study at the Pediatric Sleep Clinic or parent-led observation at home. We opted for the sleep study; I didn’t want to base this important decision on my amateur surveillance.

The sleep study confirmed sleep apnea and we moved forward to schedule his surgery. I started to gather information to help prepare my child and anticipate his needs. One incredibly helpful resource: this post, written by my friend Brenda, on her daughter’s experience.

Other Helpful Tonsil and Adenoid Removal Guidance Included:

  • Read children’s books about the subject. Coincidentally we already owned A Visit to the Sesame Street Hospital, but I also received recommendations for Curious George goes to the Hospital and Goodbye Tonsils.
  • Stock up on liquid Tylenol and ibuprofen. We were able to buy those at the hospital pharmacy before we checked out.
  • Remember that pain reliever suppositories exist. If your child refuses to drink liquid medication, it may be a necessary to have a back-up plan to help them manage pain. Luckily we never needed these, but I appreciated the head’s up.
  • Know their breath will be terrible. I’m not sure this insight is all that helpful, but seriously — it is p-r-e-t-t-y bad. Just know it’s normal.
  • Anticipate 7-10 days of pain medication. About a week after the surgery, scabs will come off and the pain can increase again. We rotated Motrin and Tylenol, and set our alarms through the night to keep him hydrated and not miss a dose.
  • In the first few days after the surgery, avoid red foods like red Jell-O. This way, you don’t confuse food dye with a bleeding concern.
  • Build a stash of cold and sweet treats like popsicles and juice. Fun tip: you can microwave a popsicle for a few seconds to make a slushy!
  • Grab a spit bowl. I’m not sure if this is the case for all kids, but there seemed to be an excess amount of saliva. Extra towels and a spit bowl helped.

The team at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital was amazing. I appreciated that my son was able to take his lovies with him and that the staff was very sensitive to his comfort, including when he had a hard time coming out of anesthesia.

The best part of our experience was that nearly immediately he stopped snoring. Two years later, he seems to no longer have symptoms of sleep apnea, which will improve his overall health for years to come.


If you have also gone through tonsil and adenoid removal with your child, what tips can you share?
Susie is a mom of two, student affairs professional, book-lover and frequent challah baker. Originally from Skokie, Illinois, Susie first came to Iowa City for college and grad school. The following decade was full of adventure and moving boxes as she and her husband followed jobs to New York, Illinois and Texas. They were thrilled to relocate “home” to Iowa City in 2016. In addition to working at the UI Pomerantz Career Center, Susie is a PTA volunteer and sorority advisor. She loves date nights in the Ped Mall, catching a show at Hancher or the Englert, and most of all, cuddling her kids on the couch.

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