What Are Tonsil Stones?
A sore throat is often the first sign of a common cold or flu virus. However, if that sore throat also includes difficulty swallowing and if you happen to notice small bumps that appear white or off-yellow in colour at the back of your throat or on your tonsils, then you may have what are known as tonsil stones.
Your tonsils, which are two gland-like structures on each side of the back of your throat, have several nooks and crannies in-between them in which things like bacteria, dead cells, mucous and the buildup of food particles can become trapped. This debris can then harden, which is what results in the formation of tonsil stones. While harmless, tonsil stones more commonly develop in individuals with chronic inflammation or those who have repeated occurrences of tonsillitis – which is inflammation and swelling of the tonsils, resulting in pain.
Tonsil stones are generally quite small, and it is rare for someone to have as stone that becomes large and solidified. In fact, many tonsil stones are not even noticeable, and are not detected unless someone has had an X-ray or CT scan. Some larger stones, however, can come along with symptoms, such as exceedingly bad breath (often accompanied with an infection of the tonsils) and a sore throat, ear pain, tonsil swelling, and difficulty swallowing.
Depending on the size of the stones, there is often no medical treatment required – particularly if the tonsil stones are small – though some people will attempt to dislodge the stones by using a pick or swab, but this is risky as you increase your risk of developing an infection, especially if the piece of equipment you are using is not sterile. If you are determined to get rid of your tonsil stones, I instead recommend trying a gentler approach, such as gargling with warm salter water. This will not only help to dislodge the stones, but also ease any discomfort that you might be feeling if you have tonsillitis as well. If an infection is present, the patient will also usually be put on a course of antibiotics.
In cases where the tonsil stones are too large to be dislodged on their own and are causing severe symptoms, surgical removal may be necessary. In most cases, this type of procedure can be done by using a local numbing agent as opposed to general anesthesia. As for preventing tonsil stones all together, this is unfortunately something that is not always guaranteed, as they are common and can reoccur. The only way you can ensure that you won’t develop tonsil stones again is to have a surgical procedure known as a tonsillectomy – which is only done on individuals who have repeated cases of tonsillitis. When you have a tonsillectomy, your tonsils are removed, and that means the possibility of developing tonsil stones in the future is also then eliminated. Unfortunately, unlike having the stones removed with a local numbing agent, a tonsillectomy is performed under general anesthesia. It’s also not uncommon to have a bad sore throat as well as difficulty swallowing for a few days following the procedure – and, like any surgical procedure, there are risks associated, including infection, swelling, and bleeding. To help ease your sore throat following the surgery, sip on cold water or suck on ice chips. It’s also important that you make sure you’re getting enough rest to help speed up the healing process and prevent any setbacks or complications from occurring.