My Tonsil Surgery (Tonsillectomy) Experience: NHS UK (Singer Edition)
The dreaded ‘tonsil removal’. I’ve just been through it. It’s the surgical spectre that haunts school age children and beyond. For those of us that have gone through it, the phrase conjures memories of a painful throat and a dreary diet of cold, bland foods. That’s such an annoyance for me, I realised how much of a foodie I actually am! On the flip-side, it’s probably the only time you’ll ever have a medically appropriate excuse to eat way too much ice cream.
Side Note: This blog is from my own experience of having a tonsillectomy as an adult, and this isn’t medical advice. It’s just a sharing of my own personal experience and my thoughts/understanding.
What is a tonsillectomy?
Tonsillectomies involve the removal of the tonsils (an ‘ectomy’ is just any surgical procedure in which a part of the body is removed), which are little fleshy pads that sit on either side of the back of the throat. The operation is a hugely common one, and though it isn’t nice, it’s a relatively straightforward procedure.
I found the recovery to be annoying, frequently painful, and uncomfortable, but by nearly 3 weeks post-surgery, I was (almost) back to myself and off any pain meds. Inevitably, for us as singers, any operation in this vital vocal zone requires careful consideration. Luckily for me (although I’m not sure if luck is the right word?!) I was on the NHS waiting list for a very long time, so I had a lot of time to carefully consider how much I really did need this procedure. It definitely wasn’t a spontaneous, last minute decision. I do need to take a minute to say how wonderful the NHS staff were on the day of my surgery though, hospitals can be scary, and they made me feel at ease. The after care post-surgery was exceptional too. Thank you Leicester Royal Infirmary!
How do inflamed tonsils affect our singing voice?
Your voice (like your personality, I’m sure) is complex and multifaceted, and it might surprise you to learn that If your tonsils become inflamed, your vocal range will likely remain intact. The problem is that inflammation dulls the very thing that makes your voice unique, your tone. There are also different complications that come with inflammation which could of course hinder your singing voice.
Will a tonsillectomy make my singing voice worse?
The surgery is a fast procedure, unlikely to leave any lasting effects on your voice. In fact several high profile singers have undergone this simple operation before.
You might think from the title of this Daily Mirror article that Little Mix’s Pierre Edwards had her voice temporarily ruined by a tonsillectomy, but in her own words that is completely untrue: her complaints were directed to the time before the procedure took place.
However, it is worth easing into your vocal recovery and not rushing back into full steam ahead. Take your time. I personally didn’t speak for a couple of weeks post-surgery, and then after that I took things slow and eased into vocal exercises before getting back into full-on singing. Luckily for me, I had the guidance of the amazing Carrie Garrett from Vita Voice UK to give me some useful hints and tips. I also utilised pro singer tools such as the Pocket Vox and my set of Hearfones to aid the process.
Will a tonsillectomy make my singing voice better?
In the long term, some report that it makes the throat feel ‘more open’ and creates an improved vocal quality, though a study based on this idea found no evidence of this. I’m guessing this idea could be linked to resonance space and how taking out enlarged tonsils open the throat up as it's less full and inflamed. I've been working on getting used to my new way of resonating when singing, and it's taking me a little bit of time to get used to it, but I’m definitely on the right path now.
Regardless, you shouldn’t be too worried about having your tonsils removed if you’ve done all of your research (and if you keep getting recurring tonsillitis, a solution to that is to get them removed if you meet the criteria). I’ll write another blog soon on the specific things that helped me post-surgery (even the weird and random things!) but drop me a message if you have any questions in the meantime.