Tonsil Stones

Although you may think that the kidneys are the only place in the body that can develop stones, the tonsils are another area that can develop hard and sometimes painful stones in certain individuals. Tonsils are gland-like structures that are situated at the back of your throat and it is your tonsils’ job to prevent and fight infection. They are made of tissue that contains lymphocytes, which are cells that work to fight off bacteria and infection. The tonsils are meant to function like nets, where they catch bacteria before it can move into the body and cause problems. However, your tonsils do not often do their job properly and in some people, they can be more of a hindrance than a help – for instance, large tonsils can cause sleep apnea and they can become frequently infected, causing tonsillitis.

What Causes Tonsil Stones?

Your tonsils work to catch bacteria and other debris from moving into your body and causing infection. They catch this debris in nooks and crannies within the tissue that make up the tonsils, and this debris can become concentrated into tiny white formations. Tonsil stones form when these formations calcify and harden, and these tend to occur more in people who suffer with repeated inflammation of their tonsils or numerous bouts of tonsillitis. Many people have small tonsil stones and it is rare for these stones to become large.

What Are the Symptoms of Tonsil Stones?

Small tonsil stones tend not to cause any noticeable symptoms. Even when stones are large, they may only be discovered by accident if an X-ray or CT scan has been done on that area of the body.

Symptoms of tonsil stones include:

  • Bad breath. Bad breath is caused by sulphur compounds and these compounds are foul-smelling. It is though tonsil stones cause bad breath and so they should be looked at as a cause if the cause of bad breath, also known as halitosis, is unknown.
  • Sore throat. If a tonsil stone and tonsillitis occur at the same time, it can be difficult to pinpoint the root of the pain. Tonsil stones can cause pain or discomfort in the area that they become lodged in, rather than always right at the back of the throat.
  • Tonsil swelling. Inflammation can occur alongside a tonsil stone and this inflammation can cause the tonsils to swell. This could cause a sore throat amongst other problems.
  • Ear pain. Because the nose, ears and throat are all connected, a tonsil stone could form within the tonsil and then cause pain within the ears. This is known as pain transference and this ear pain could occur even though the tonsil stone is nowhere near the ear.
  • Difficulty swallowing. Depending on the location of the tonsil stone, the individual affected could have difficulty in swallowing.
  • White particles. In some cases, you will be able to see white debris at the back of the throat and sometimes this debris is visible as an actual stone although this is rare.

Treatment of Tonsil Stones

If no symptoms occur, tonsil stones will usually be left to break down on their own. However, if symptoms occur, you may choose to remove the tonsil stone yourself (if you can see it) with a toothpick or swab. Gargling with salt water is also thought to help the stones to break down and antibiotics can be helpful in some cases, although they do not deal with the root cause of the tonsil stone. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the stone.

To prevent against tonsil stone or tonsillitis, you could have your tonsils removed. This is the only sure fire way to prevent reinfection and it is a common method of treatment for recurrent bouts of tonsillitis.