Tonsil Stones: Your Sore Throat May Not Be What You Think

 of THave you noticed throat discomfort with strange white masses on the back of your throat in your tonsils? Tonsils are the pair of soft tissue masses located in the throat that act as part of the body’s immune system by stopping germs from entering the body through the mouth or nose. Often adults develop crypts (small pockets or folds that are naturally occurring) in their tonsils which can harbor tonsil stones. In fact, most adults have at least 10 to 20 tonsil crypts ranging in different sizes. While uncomfortable or sometimes even painful, tonsil stones are usually very easy to spot and take care of from home.

What are Tonsil Stones?

Tonsil stones, also known as tonsilliths, are not as scary as they sound. The stones are actually spongy small lumps that form in the crypts of the tonsils about the size of a small piece of gravel. These yellow-white pebbles are not hard but can often cause bad breath or sore throats. Tonsil stones are often brushed off as just small bits of leftover food; however, they are actually composed of dead cells from the inside lining of your cheek and mouth. When the cells in your mouth die, some become trapped in the tonsillar crypts and over time, as your cells fill up the crypt, the stone forms.

Tonsil Stone Symptoms

Although they aren’t hard like rocks, tonsil stones can still be uncomfortable and often confused with other illnesses relating to the throat like retention cysts. Recognizing the signs of tonsil stones is the first step towards their removal.

• Halitosis (bad breath)
• Trouble swallowing
• Swelling of the tonsils
• Sore throat
• Ear pain
• Small white or yellow lumps stuck in tonsillar crypts

Treatment of Tonsil Stones

Tonsil stones are relatively easy to remove at home with common household supplies. If your tonsil stone starts to bother you, simply take a Q-tip and push on the tonsillar crypt holding the stone. The tonsil stone should easily come out. Waterpik flossers are also useful tools for flushing out tonsil crypts. Make sure the tools you are using won’t damage the lining of your mouth. Refrain from using sharp tools or instruments like toothpicks. Indelicate tools run the risk of injury to the tonsil and bleeding. Sometimes natural coughing or swallowing will dislodge tonsil stones on their own.

In addition to manual removal, it’s important to practice good oral hygiene on a daily basis. Remember to brush your teeth and floss twice a day for at least two minutes. Gargling with salt water or a 50/50 mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide has also shown to keep your tonsillar crypts cleaner and soothe your throat. Make sure if you gargle with a 50/50 hydrogen peroxide and water mixture that you do not swallow hydrogen peroxide.

For those who have more serious cases, involving recurrent cases of tonsillitis or infection, you might consider a tonsillectomy. A tonsillectomy is a surgery that involves the removal of the tonsils. The procedure is painful and often requires weeks of recovery. Given the seriousness of the procedure, gentle, manual removal of the tonsil stones themselves is far more common than removal of the tonsils. Barring complete removal of the tonsils, there is no permanent fix for tonsil stones.

“They can sort of wax and wane,” said board certified otolaryngologist (ENT) Eric J. Simko, of TPMG Otolaryngology Head &Neck Surgery Allergy in Newport News. Tonsil stones might seem to disappear or shrink in size enough to make them undetectable, but they can come back.

If you have difficulties with at-home remedies or want to discuss other treatment options, talk to a TPMG Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist in Newport News today. While bothersome, tonsil stones are relatively easy to treat. If you suspect you might have tonsil stones, try at-home removal methods to find relief.

Eric J. Simko, MD, FACS, FAAOA

About Dr. Eric J. Simko, MD, FACS, FAAOA

Eric J. Simko, MD, FACS, FAAOA is a board certified otolaryngologist (ENT) practicing Head and Neck Surgery, ENT, and Allergy in Newport News, VA. His areas of special interest include pediatric ear, nose, and throat disorders such as recurrent ear infections , sleep-disordered breathing, thyroid/parathyroid surgery, nasal and sinus problems to include allergy and the treatment of hearing loss.

For more information or to make an appointment with Dr. Simko at TPMG Otolaryngology in Newport News, call (757) 534-7975.

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