Tonsil Stones: 6 Alarming Symptoms Of Tonsilloliths That Should Never Be Ignored

by Ileana Paules-Bronet
Ileana is the Editor of Original Content. She lives in Queens, NY.

When I was in college, I shared a room with a wonderful girl. We became best friends, and we spent almost all our time together.

One day, she was feeling a bit under the weather, so she went to our student health center. They told her she just had a sore throat. A few days later, she wasn’t feeling any better.

I looked at her throat, and her tonsils were so swollen that we started looking up what could possibly be wrong: tonsillitis, tonsil cancer, tonsil stones?

Luckily, she had an easily treatable abscess, but as a result, I got quite caught up with one question: What on earth are tonsil stones?

Have you ever heard of tonsil stones? They’re not unlike kidney stones or gallstones, and they form in your tonsils at the back of your throat. Read below to find out more about what causes tonsil stones — and how to know if you have them!

Thumbnail Photo: Morgan Swofford for LittleThings // Wikimedia / Mreasystart

What Are Tonsil Stones?

what are tonsil stones
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Tonsil stones are small, hard lumps of material that form on the tonsils. They’re usually quite small.

“Formally known as tonsilloliths, the stones consist of mucus, dead cells and other debris that collect in the deep pockets of the tonsils and gradually condense into small, light-colored globs,” explains The New York Times.

How Do Tonsil Stones Form?

how tonsil stones form
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

WebMD explains that your tonsils are full of small crevices, where materials like mucus, dead cells, and food can get trapped.

The debris attracts bacteria, and over time, the gunk becomes calcified and turns into hard, whitish lumps.

Symptoms Of Tonsil Stones
#1: Bad Breath

bad breath
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

One of the most common symptoms of tonsil stones is bad breath.

Also known as halitosis, this awful-smelling breath is caused by the bacteria that accumulates around the tonsil stones.

#2: Sore Throat

sore throat
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Another common symptom of tonsil stones is a sore throat.

Tonsil stones may make it feel like your throat is scratchy or make you cough.

#3: Tonsil Swelling

tonsil swelling
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Tonsil stones can trigger infections and inflammation, which can make your tonsils swell up.

Sometimes, it can be hard to tell if the pain and swelling is coming from tonsil stones or just tonsillitis.

#4: Difficulty Swallowing

difficulty swallowing
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Depending on where exactly the tonsil stone is located and how large it is, it may make it difficult to swallow.

You may also feel as though you have something stuck in the back of your throat (and it won’t go away if you eat or drink).

#5: Ear Pain

ear pain
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Tonsils share nerve pathways with ears, meaning that if the tonsil stone is located near the nerve, it may cause ear pain.

Of course, the tonsil stone isn’t actually touching the ear, it’s just causing pain based on the location of the nerves.

#6: White Debris

white debris
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Some tonsil stones can be seen with the naked eye, at the back of the throat. They typically look like small lumps of solid, whitish material.

Many times, tonsil stones aren’t visible at all, since they are hidden in the nooks and crannies of the tonsils.

How To Treat Tonsil Stones

treat tonsil stones
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

There are a few options when it comes to treating tonsil stones.

If they’re small enough and not causing any symptoms, you don’t have to treat your tonsil stones at all.

For people who feel minor discomfort or swelling, gargling with warm saltwater may help.

If you visit a doctor for your tonsil stones, they may prescribe antibiotics or even schedule you for surgery if the tonsil stones are very large.

Can You Prevent Tonsil Stones?

prevent tonsil stones
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

It’s not possible to prevent tonsil stones without removing the tonsils entirely. Those who get tonsil stones a lot have chronic tonsillitis, in which case a tonsillectomy may be a good option. Consult your doctor for the best ideas on what to do.

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