If somebody were to talk to you about stones in the human body, what will most likely come to your mind? Kidney stones, right? But do you know that the kidneys are not the only place where stones can be formed in your body? Another place where stones can be formed in your body is the tonsils. When debris becomes trapped in your tonsils, it may form hard stones that are sometimes very painful. Food, dead cells, and other substances are examples of debris that may come trapped in your tonsils and form tonsil stones (also called tonsilloliths or tonsil calculi).
You cannot joke with the health of your tonsils because it helps you to fight off infections that enter through your mouth. That’s why we need to talk about how to recognize and treat tonsilloliths. You know, most people who have tonsilloliths do not even realize that they have them. That is because they are not so easy to see. Tonsilloliths can be as small as a grain of rice. However, they can also be as big as a grapefruit. Let’s find out more about tonsil stones.
A General Overview of How Tonsilloliths Are Formed
The tonsils are gland-like structures located behind your throat. You have two tonsils; one on each side. They are situated in a pocket. These two tonsils are very important for your health and wellbeing.
The tissues that make up your tonsils contain a group of cells called lymphocytes. These cells prevent and fight infections in your body.
We can liken the tonsils to nets. They trap bacteria and virus particles that try to enter your body through your mouth. They honestly do not filter away all the germs that come in through your mouth, but they certainly can filter some.
The structure of the tonsils is such that it has some folds, pits, and tunnels called tonsil crypts. These are areas where debris can become trapped. The debris may be made up of such things as food, bacteria, viruses, dead cells, saliva, and even mucous.
Tonsilloliths are formed when trapped debris has built up, become concentrated, and hardens. However, a lot of the people who have tonsilloliths have very small ones.
Large tonsilloliths are quite rare to find, but they do occur. In 1936, a tonsillolith as large as 14.5 centimeters was found. That’s the largest recorded tonsillolith so far.
When tonsilloliths grow big, they become hard masses that cause your tonsils to swell visibly. They may also cause pain and irritation in the tonsils and the throat.
Those who have chronic inflammation are more prone to having tonsilloliths. People who have repeated bouts of tonsillitis also have a higher risk of having tonsilloliths.
Tonsilloliths usually have a white or yellowish appearance. They can lead to more serious conditions if they are not well treated. Untreated tonsilloliths can harbor bacteria and encourage infections.
Furthermore, tonsilloliths often have an unpleasant smell. This happens when fungi and bacteria begin to feed on the debris.
How Do You Know If You Have Tonsil Stones?
We mentioned earlier that most people who have tonsilloliths are not even aware that they have them. This is because they are mostly small in size and do not cause any noticeable symptoms.
Some large tonsilloliths are only discovered incidentally. This happens for instance when someone does an X-ray or CT scan for a different reason entirely.
However, very large tonsilloliths have noticeable symptoms. They are as follows:
1. Bad breath (also called halitosis)
Halitosis is one of the prime indicators that you may have tonsilloliths. The odor is usually distinct and unpleasant.
Bad breath usually accompanies a tonsil infection. So, the reason for the bad breath is not the tonsillolith itself. Tonsilloliths encourage tonsil infections. This, in turn, produces a foul smell.
2. Sore throat
Large tonsilloliths may cause pain and discomfort in your throat. This is usually more prominent in the area where the stone is lodged.
Tonsillitis (Tonsil infection) also causes sore throat. So it is usually difficult to know the exact cause of the sore throat when both tonsillolith and tonsillitis occur together.
3. White debris
It is possible to visibly see some tonsilloliths in the back of the throat. They usually appear as a hard mass of solid white material. However, this is not always so. Most of the time, tonsilloliths are hidden in the folds, pits, and tunnels of the tonsils.
4. Difficulty swallowing
This depends on the size of the tonsillolith and where it is located. Sometimes, a tonsillolith makes it difficult or painful for you to swallow foods and, in some cases, even liquids.
5. Ear pain
You may wonder what the link is between tonsil and ear. They share some nerve pathways. For this reason, you may feel pain in your ear, although the stone itself is not touching your ear.
6. Swollen Tonsil
If the tonsillolith is large enough, your tonsils may be visibly swollen. Inflammation from infection (if present) can also make your tonsils to become larger.
Treatment Options for Tonsilloliths?
There are many ways in which tonsilloliths can be treated. If you have tonsilloliths, the appropriate treatment option for you will depend on three factors; the size of the tonsilloliths, the amount of pain and discomfort it causes, and the possibility of causing more harm. Below are the different treatment options:
1. No Treatment
In most cases, especially when the tonsillolith causes no symptoms, it does not require any special treatment.
2. Manual Removal
If the tonsil stone is visible, you can dislodge it by yourself. Some people choose to do this. You can make use of picks or swabs to dislodge visible tonsilloliths.
3. Energetic Coughing
Some people have accidentally coughed out ‘stones’ when they cough energetically. They wonder what it could be, not knowing that they are tonsilloliths. This means coughing can help loosen tonsilloliths.
4. Saltwater gargles
If you want some relief from a sore throat, you can gargle with warm salty water. This helps to ease pain and discomfort in your throat.
5. Prescribed Medication
There are various antibiotics that you can use to treat tonsilloliths. They help majorly to deal with infections that usually accompany tonsilloliths.
Antibiotics help with the symptoms, but they cannot address the basic problem that is causing tonsilloliths. Another thing with antibiotics is that they sometimes have side effects.
6. Surgical removal
Sometimes, the best option is for a surgeon to remove the tonsils. This becomes necessary when the tonsilloliths are very large and symptomatic. When the tissues of the tonsils are removed, there is no possibility that tonsilloliths can be formed.
It is almost impossible to completely prevent the growth of tonsil stones. However, you can reduce the risks by maintaining good oral hygiene.