Affecting eight percent of adults, tonsil stones occur when dead skin cells, bacteria and food become trapped in the small crevice on the surface of the tonsils. Eventually, the debris gets pushed together and forms hard balls known as tonsil stones. Understanding the signs and symptoms of this condition can help ensure you seek treatment in a timely manner.
Understanding Your Tonsils
Tonsils are the soft masses of tissues that sit at the back of the throat. They are made up of tissue and covered in pink mucosa (the same membrane that lines your mouth). Crevices, known as crypts, run through the mucosa of each tonsil.
Your tonsils are an important part of your immune system, as they help filter out germs and trap bacteria to prevent it from entering the body.
Breaking Down Tonsil Stones
Food and mucus can become trapped in the crypts of the tonsils. If they get stuck, bacteria can begin to grow. Over time, trapped debris can harden and form calcifications known as tonsil stones.
These hard calcifications are typically white or light yellow in color. Most of the time they form too deep in the tonsil tissue to be seen with a mirror.
While many with tonsil stones exhibit no symptoms, there are an unlucky few who can experience:
- Redness and irritation
- Bad breath
- Tonsillitis and other infections
- Sore throat
- Painful of difficulty swallowing
A rarely reported symptom is a feeling of pain or pressure in the ears.
Treating Tonsil Stones
For those who experience few to no symptoms, tonsil stones can usually be treated at home. Gently press the back of your toothbrush against your tonsils to free the stones. Vigorous gargling can also help dislodge them. In order to prevent chocking, try not to swallow the stones.
Antibiotics may be used to manage tonsil stones by lowering your bacteria count. This treatment does not address the underlying cause of the stones, so it is not used for long-term treatment.
If you cannot remove the stones yourself, your ENT doctor can perform a tonsil stone removal in their office. Laser tonsil cryptolysis uses a laser to eliminate the crypt where the stones are lodged. Coblation cryptolysis uses radio waves instead of heat. The radio waves transform a salt solution into charged ions, which cut through the tonsil tissue.
Severe and chronic cases may require a removal on the tonsils, known as a tonsillectomy.
To learn more about tonsil conditions or to schedule an appointment, contact the experts at ENT of Athens today.